November 14, 2012 10:24:21 AM
An historically significant Columbus school will soon be reopening its doors to the public, this time with a different educational mission.
On Wednesday, R.E. Hunt High School, the city's only black high school until integration in 1971, will officially become the R.E. Hunt Museum and Cultural Center during an open house ceremony Thursday afternoon. Museum organizers say the museum will focus on teaching both the young and old about the school's role in the city's history.
"We are very excited about this," museum board chairman Johnny Johnson said. "We're not where we need to be, but we feel we have enough to energize the community."
The 10,000-square-foot facility is located in the school's fine arts building. The Columbus Municipal School District's Board of Trustees declared the gymnasium and fine arts buildings at Hunt Intermediate School as surplus property in 2011 and voted to allow the building to be leased for the museum. The school was built in 1953 and closed in January 2011.
Although the museum will hold a grand opening on Thursday, there is no set date for when it will be open to the public on a regular schedule.
Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science history teacher Chuck Yarborough said Hunt played an important role in this history of Columbus.
"Hunt was built as part of an effort to make separate but equal educational facilities a reality in Columbus," Yarborough said. "The school came out of a school study conducted by Mississippi State University of school facilities in Columbus in the late 1940s. The report found gross inequities in the facilities available to black and white students. For example, Union Academy had over 1,000 students and some classrooms sat over 60 students with no heat. For that number of students, there was one boys bathroom and one girls bathroom -- each measuring 8 feet by 10 feet. In any case, Hunt was built as a modern facility to help deal with that problem. This pre-dated the Brown decision in 1954 and the state-wide effort to build new, typically inferior, schools in other communities across Mississippi in an effort to maintain school segregation."
Johnson said he and his 19-member board, which will one day have 21 members, have been working hard to get donations for the museum.
"We have put the composites back up and some people have donated some memorabilia," Johnson said. "We have some items donated by the Alva Temple family. Mr. Temple was a Tuskegee Airman. We also have a lot of pictures and articles from the 30s and 40s."
Financial donations have also been made to the museum, which is a 5013c non-profit organization.
"The (Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau) gave the board $3,000 to cover the framing of some composites," CVB Executive Director Nancy Carpenter said. "They needed some new frames for some of the composites of former classmates. This is a way of celebrating those who return to Columbus and visit Hunt and remember the good times they had there."
With a grand opening on the calendar, and with acceptance of both private donations and public tax dollars from the CVB, the question remains: When will the Hunt Museum and Cultural Center become fully operational and open its doors to the public?
Johnson couldn't provide a definitive answer.
"I don't want to get pinned down to a date," Johnson said. "We are trying to get some grant money. We are hoping to get a grant that would allow us to hire a part-time facilitator. We aren't sure when this will happen. The museum is available for private tours for school children and anyone that wants to contact us."
The museum grand opening will be held Thursday from 4-6 p.m. For more information, call Johnson at 251-1855.