Booker T. earns National Register designation
The former Booker T. Washington High School building is now on the National Register of Historic Places as of Sept. 2.
The National Register listing is an honorary distinction recognizing the nation's significant historic places that merit preservation because of their significance in American History. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History confirmed the designation on Sept. 15.
Philadelphia Mayor James A. Young said he was pleased to learn of the designation of the building.
“This school is about educating people of our community, our fathers, our mothers that helped us get a start,” Young said of the building that the city is in the process of renovating to become a recreation and community center. “Education was key to helping us understand the need to vote and the prosperity of the community.”
The Booker T. Washington High School was the first public high school in the city of Philadelphia built specifically to offer secondary education to African American students.
The building now holds three distinctive designations, including being designated a Mississippi Historical Landmark by the MDAH on Jan. 23, 2021, the State of Mississippi Register of Historic places on March 18, 2021, and now the National Registry of Historic places on Sept. 2, 2021.
The designations stemmed from the Booker T. Washington High School Class of 1965 celebrating its 50th Anniversary in July 2015. In honor of the 50th anniversary, the class of 1965 applied for the designations and placed a historical marker in front of the building.
“It's been a long time coming, but it was well worth the wait,” said Bettye Blacks, a member of the Class of 1965. “These accomplishments give us (class of 1965) a great sense of pride. We consider the school a blessing that continues to guide our lives even today. We still have a lot of pride for the Booker T. Washington Hornets. We'll always be Hornets. We'll never be anything else.”
Blacks said a designation ceremony is planned for Sunday, July 3, 2022, in the school building gym/auditorium as a part of the Booker T. Washington High School’s 23rd Biennial High School Reunion.
“At that time the National Registry Historic plaque will be placed on the building,” Blacks said.
Young said plans for the renovation of the building are progressing and that Waggoner Engineering is working on plans to renovate the roof and seal the windows and doors and that they expect to begin advertising for bids soon and hope work will begin before the end of the year.
Young said the building will be more than just a place to play basketball and games and he hopes it will house a community center with computers and will have historic information about the community for visitors to learn about the community’s history.
“It will be more than just a recreation center but a learning center and historical part of our community,” Young said. “I am thankful to those who made this possible. A lot of sweat and blood went into it. To me, that is part of who we are. It has been a part of the community. It is more than just a building it is part of who we are as a community.”
Young also thanked the board of aldermen for approving the project and said the center would be beneficial to the whole community.
Aldermen learned last month the estimated price tag on the Booker T. Washington building renovation project could top $500,000.
Darion Warren, project manager with Waggoner Engineering, told the board the estimated cost would be $475,142, including the removal and replacement of the existing roof, replacing existing insulation with vinyl back insulation, repairs to the gym floor and any structural steel repairs that might be needed.
There will be new restrooms and a new entrance lobby in what is now the back of the building. The estimated cost also includes mobilization costs and bonds for the contractor.
Warren said the price reflects the current cost of building materials.
Young said the city is hoping to receive a $25,000 Community Development Block Grant and a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
The city plans to pay for the work with money from a $1.2 million bond issue that was passed last year along with any grant monies they receive.