FALKNER • American author, Robert Heinlein, once said, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” Tippah County is fortunate to be home to a Historic Landmark which invites residents to delve in to the past: The Old Ruckersville School.
Ruckersville School was the institution that gave birth to the formal education process of most of the black citizens of the Ruckersville community. The school building, which now serves as a community center, is one of over 1,300 buildings and sites in the state that have officially been recognized as having historical and/or architectural significance. Properties designated as Mississippi Landmarks are afforded specific benefits and protection by the State of Mississippi to insure preservation of the property’s historic, aesthetic, architectural, scenic, and cultural significance.
The Ruckersville School, originally organized as the Ruckersville Colored School, was founded in the early 1940’s. In 1941-42, the first structure for the Ruckersville School was a one-room shanty style building and served a dual purpose, as church and school.
The school in its infancy was supported primarily by the community with families and friends making sure that there was wood for the pot belly stove that provided heat for the teachers and students. A number of the teachers that taught at the Ruckersville School were from out of town, and during the school year, they lived with numerous families in the community.
It is believed that the building that now stands on the site and which served the Ruckersville School from the early 1940’s to the late 1960’s was built by Garnett Hopper. The school was initially slated to be a brick structure, but due to the building of the nearby Falkner School at the time, which used all of the bricks available, Ruckersville School ended up being constructed with cement blocks, which, in essence, probably ended up being a blessing to the community, since most of the other schools built during this time period were built from wood. Due to time and the elements, these other schools have had to be torn down or totally refurbished.
In the early 1940’s when the construction of Bethlehem Baptist Church was in progress, the present structure served temporarily as a place of worship for the members of the church.
When school was in session, the students would often look forward to being allowed the privilege of going to the principal’s office, pressing the small black button signaling it was time to raise the flag for the beginning of a new day of learning. The raising of the school flag was always overseen by a school official.
The school building itself, which, for the most part, has been left unchanged — even down to the original pale green paint on the cinder block walls — is not the only reason why the building is historically significant. The old school, which formerly went up to sixth grade, now features a Historic Room: a veritable time capsule of the school’s history.
Elaine Simelton taught at the school before integration. Prior to her death in 2021, Simelton, a well-respected leader in the Ruckersville community, engaged in spearheading multiple Ruckersville community improvement projects, including leading the Ruckersville TCDC in its quest before the Appalachian Regional Authority to secure the grant monies for laying the Foot Loose Walking Track on the former playground area. Her passion for her community, and preserving her community’s history, led to her establishment of the Historic Room, where she served as its first curator.
The Historic Room was a labor of love for Simelton, who spent decades of her time and financial resources to preserve the history of the school for future generations. Old wooden chairs from the original school are set up in a circle in a corner of the Historic Room, as if awaiting a small group of children for story time. Original student textbooks are on display, as well as the school secretary’s typewriter. Primary source documents, such as a ledger written in the handwriting of a former teacher of the school, photographic tributes to the many members of the military and notable graduates and teachers of the school, as well as newspaper clippings of past events, including a visit by Dr. James H. Meredith, who integrated the University of Mississippi, are all proudly displayed, transporting visitors back in time. The catalogued documents and artifacts in the Historic Room emphasize the major impact this unassuming, humble structure had on so many students during its 60 years as a school, due to the dedicated teachers and staff who cultivated young minds with a love of learning and a passion to change the world.
One such former student is Simelton’s daughter, Miriam Simelton Anderson. Carrying on her mother’s vision, Anderson, a Ripley resident, is interim curator of the Historic Room. Pointing to a school portrait of a smiling girl with braided pigtails, displayed on a bulletin board in the school’s auditorium with photos of others associated with the school, Anderson explained, “That’s my third grade photo—right before integration.”
Passing the stage, where students would once perform, prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance were recited, as well as where major announcements were made, Anderson recalled her mother telling her as a child, “When you get older, you’re going to have to learn to get up in front of people.”
She and her classmates gave many speeches up on that stage. Anderson’s mother was right: as an adult, Anderson speaks publicly, both as a community advocate and as an entrepreneur who provide individuals, families, employees, and small business owners with access to legal services, and identity theft protection services.
Mississippi’s state government dedicated the building to community use after integration.
“There is a board which oversees the building now. After integration, most of us (students) went to Falkner, some went to Ripley, some went to Walnut,” Anderson explained.
After integration, her mother stopped teaching, cared for her children, and continued in various community projects, including the Historic Room.
The Ruckersville School served then, and continues to serve, as a pillar to Ruckersville and surrounding communities, and was declared an official Mississippi Landmark on July 17, 2009.
The Historic Room is open for viewing by appointment only. To schedule a tour, contact Miriam Simelton Anderson: (662) 587-7604.
Those desiring to donate to the Ruckersville Historic Room Evergreen Project may do so by making your donations payable to: Ruckersville T.C.D.C. Historical Room Evergreen.