RED HILL — For 40 years, the Rosenwald School educated Black students in Red Hill, a small community near where Lee, Union and Pontotoc counties meet.
Built in 1921, the school was located beside where the Red Hill Community Center now stands. The school comprised three rooms — an auditorium and two classrooms, one for first through fourth grade students and another for fifth through eighth grade.
It educated children through 1961. Starting in 1962, students were bused to the Union County Training School, later known as the B.F. Ford School, in New Albany.
Throughout its four decades of existence, the school served several thousand students in the rural community. It produced teachers, ministers, health care workers, business owners and entrepreneurs.
The first "Rosenwald schools" were constructed when Julius Rosenwald, chair of Sears, Roebuck, and Company in Chicago, donated $30,000 to the Tuskegee Institute in 1912 and authorized Booker T. Washington to use the money to build six small schools in rural Alabama, according to the Mississippi Encyclopedia.
"The purpose of this was to help educate Black kids throughout the South," Henry Cobb, 79, said of the Rosenwald initiative.
A man named Lee Armstrong heard about the initiative and brought the idea to the Red Hill community. By that time, the Julius Rosenwald Fund had been established, which covered one third of the cost to build a school. The other two-thirds came from the community, with families pledging to donate $25 each.
"That's the thing about this community," said Valerie Long, alumnae of the Rosenwald School. "When an issue comes up, when there's a problem, this community does band together."
Several alumni gathered at the Red Hill Community Center on Tuesday, the last day of Black History Month, to discuss the school's legacy and what it meant to them. They laughed and shared fond memories of performing plays, enjoying weekend fish fries and playing baseball in a field beside the beloved school many years ago.
"It enabled me to go on to high school and after that go on to college and open up any number of opportunities that I could pursue in the future," Cobb said. "It meant an awful lot."
Long, 72, attended the Rosenwald School through fourth grade when it closed in 1961. She said one of the most important things it taught students was how to fellowship with each other.
"We were not all in the same grade," Long said. "So if I was in the second grade, well there were fourth graders (in the class). I think that enhanced our learning as well. The more you fraternize with somebody, you tend to pick up their ways."
Many of the young ladies who attended the Rosenwald School remain close friends today, she said.
Shirley Gambrel said if she hadn't gotten an education there, she probably wouldn't have received an education at all. She's especially grateful for the opportunity because not all communities had the chance to benefit from a school like the one in Red Hill.
Hazel Gunter describes the Rosenwald School as "an enthusiastic place" that helped students learn to think and desire the best for themselves. The school inspired her to pursue further education and ultimately to become a teacher.
For Marvin McWhorter, going to school was just something a child was supposed to do. It was part of the experience of growing up.
After graduating high school in 1968, he immediately went to work. One year later, he was drafted into the military and spent the next three years in the service. He came back to Northeast Mississippi, attended college and became a minister in 1981. He's been a pastor now for nearly 42 years and currently serves as senior pastor at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church in Shannon.
He's the only one of nine siblings who didn't move north.
"I love Mississippi, and so I decided that this was going to be home for me," McWhorter said.
The residents of Red Hill not only share a love for the state, but for their tight-knit community. The school that once served as a social hub no longer remains but has been replaced by the Red Hill Community Center, which was funded and built by the community itself, much like the school.
But former students will always have fond memories of the days they spent at the Rosenwald School of Red Hill.
"We really enjoyed our little school," Cobb said. "We had a lot of fun."
JACKSON — A former pro wrestler pleaded guilty Thursday to a federal charge related to misspending of welfare money that was supposed to help needy families in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the U.S.
Brett DiBiase faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for his plea to conspiracy to defraud the federal government.
He pleaded guilty in December 2020 to a state charge of making false representations to defraud the government. State sentencing was delayed, and DiBiase has been cooperating with state and federal investigators looking at others in the case, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens said.
Owens and Mississippi Auditor Shad White announced DiBiase's federal guilty plea.
"I applaud our federal partners for continuing to pursue federal charges for each and every individual responsible for stealing from Mississippi's most needy and vulnerable citizens," Owens said Thursday. "This case is far from over and both the state of Mississippi and the U.S. government will continue to pursue all those involved in this fraud, regardless of their position or standing."
White said the auditor's office will continue to assist prosecutors as they decide who will face criminal charges.
"I'm pleased that our work uncovering the largest public fraud in state history continues to result in convictions," White said.
John Davis, who was Mississippi Department of Human Services executive director from 2016 to mid-2019, pleaded guilty last September to state and federal charges tied to misspending of money through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.
Davis' state court charges were mostly tied to welfare money spent on DiBiase, including $160,000 for the former wrestler's drug rehabilitation in Malibu, California.
Davis, DiBiase and four other people were indicted on state charges in the welfare misspending case in February 2020.
Two of those indicted, a mother and son who ran a nonprofit organization and an education company, pleaded guilty in April 2022 to state charges of misusing welfare money, including on lavish gifts such as the first-class airfare for Davis. Nancy New and Zachary New ran the organization that funneled welfare money for DiBiase's drug rehab. They agreed to testify against others.
The welfare scandal has ensnared high-profile figures, including retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who lives in Mississippi. Favre has not faced criminal charges but is one of more than three dozen defendants in a civil lawsuit that the current Human Services director filed to try to recover some of the welfare money wasted while Davis was in charge.
Welfare money helped fund pet projects of the wealthy, including $5 million for a volleyball arena that Favre supported at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, the state auditor said. Favre's daughter played volleyball at the school starting in 2017.
JACKSON – The state’s highest court has agreed to look into a 2018 wreck in which an Oxford police officer ran a red light and collided with a car, injuring a woman and her daughter.
In a split decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court voted 6-2 to grant the city of Oxford’s request for a writ of certiorari, to allow the justices to take one more look at the case.
On a sunny afternoon in September 2018, officer Matthew Brown was responding to a wreck. His route across town took him through residential areas where speed limits ranged from 30 to 45. According to the in-car camera system, Brown reached speeds as high as 92 and drove through a pedestrian crosswalk at 73.
Traveling down Molly Barr Road, Brown approached an intersection doing 58, slowed to 45 and entered the intersection against a red light doing 46 — 6 miles per hour over the posted limit of 40. He struck Patricia Phillips’ car, causing it to spin a full 360 degrees.
Phillips and her daughter were injured and sued the city of Oxford for damages. During the April 2021 bench trial in Lafayette County Circuit Court, Judge Grady Tollison noted that the officer was using his flashing lights, siren and air horn to alert the other motorists.
Tollison ruled in favor of the city, saying the officer did not act with reckless disregard.
When Phillips appealed, the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed Tollison’s ruling and remanded the case back to the lower court to determine damages. In that split decision, five justices believed the officer did not do enough to ensure the safety of the public noting that just turning on lights and sirens “does not give an officer a free pass.” The four dissenting justices disagreed with the court overturning the decision of a circuit judge who reviewed all the evidence presented before making his ruling.
When asking for the Supreme Court to hear the case, Oxford argued that the Court of Appeals “eviscerated” Tollison’s assessment of witness credibility and evidentiary weight by reweighing facts already considered. They further argued that the appellate court misinterpreted a longstanding state law dealing with reckless disregard.
In the Thursday order, neither the six judges who voted to grant the writ of certiorari nor the two judges who voted against it offered written opinions. Associate Justice James D. Maxwell II of Oxford did not take part in the decision.
When the Supreme Court hears the appeal, they will be looking primarily at the Court of Appeals ruling but also at the lower court ruling. The high court could affirm the appellate court decision and remand the case back to circuit court to determine damages for Phillips. Or, the Supreme Court could rule that Tollison got it right the first time and rule Oxford immune from damages.