Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Barry Wilson and his wife Felicia stand beside his green and gold truck outside the old North Natchez High School, now Robert Lewis Middle School.

Archived Story

Old North Natchez High School building cherished by alumni

Published 12:04am Sunday, May 20, 2012

NATCHEZ — Had the powers that be decided to demolish Robert Lewis Middle School, Barry Wilson could have made a pretty penny. The tradeoff, though, might have been a broken heart and some green and gold tears.

Wilson said he joked with friends that if the Natchez-Adams School District decided to demolish the building, he would sell the bricks that housed his alma mater, North Natchez High School, for $100 a piece.

At least five of his friends were willing to cough it up for the memorabilia of the North Natchez Rams, he said.

Despite the opportunity to pocket $500, Wilson, a 1986 North Natchez graduate, said he’s overwhelmed with relief that the Natchez-Adams School District administrators opted to close the school and renovate it rather than go at it with a wrecking ball like a hired consultant suggested.

The school spirit, the teachers, the band, the basketball, the football and the memories — all are wrapped up behind those walls, Wilson said.

“You have to be a part of North Natchez to understand what I’m talking about,” Wilson said.

But he tried to explain, anyway.

“Back in the day, everybody was like a family. God was in school. Back then we had spirit,” Wilson said.

People would trek miles on foot down the length of Pine Street, now named Martin Luther King Jr. Street, to go to football games at North Natchez, Wilson said. And when games were hosted at Margaret Martin School — now a performing arts center — he said cars would be lined up downtown all the way to Cathedral School’s campus.

“You would think you were at an LSU athletic event if you came to one of (the schools’) basketball or football games,” Wilson said. “Anybody white, anybody black — they’ll tell you, there was a spirit.”

Wilson, who worked in recent years for the district, was in one of the Robert Lewis athletic dressing rooms two years ago when he got a shock of nostalgia. By some maintenance loophole, green and gold paint covered the room, a relic of the school colors that represented so much school pride.

“You can almost feel the chills coming to you from the atmosphere (in the dressing room) the way it was back in the day,” Wilson said.

“I cried … I was shocked to see the colors green and gold.”

Wilson’s school pride can be seen as he cruises the roads today in his green and gold Chevy Silverado. When he spotted the truck, he said he had to have it.

He even had a green truck in high school, and he used to lead the parades with it.

“It was a green Dodge Dart, everybody will tell you about it,” Wilson said.

The memories will always exist, Wilson said, but he’s relieved the structure will remain, too. When alumni tell their children about what it used to be like, they can visualize it, too, he said.

Board of Supervisors President Darryl Grennell nurtured his leadership skills at North Natchez. Grennell, a 1983 graduate, was the student council president and president of his class. He also played saxophone in the band.

“We were like the envy of all of the bands in the area,” Grennell said.

“We were just terrific; those were great days.”

Grennell said it was unfortunate to learn the structure of the building was in bad shape. And he understood the district had to follow precautions laid out by engineers and architects. But he’s pleased the district will renovate it and has plans to turn it into a science technology, engineering and mathematics magnet school.

Grennell said in a technological age, he understands the importance of adapting to conform to modern day demands in education.

“If it means shutting (the school) down and making it a different type of school to enhance education, let’s do it,” Grennell said.

Angela Brooks is a teacher at Natchez High School and was voted one of the class favorites at North Natchez for the class of 1989 — the last class to graduate from North Natchez.

“That was our high school, and green and gold kind of runs deep in our veins,” Brooks said.

She said pride still exists at district schools, but it is different. At North and South Natchez high schools, the sports teams played nearby competitors, which made for competitive rivalries.

Brooks said she hopes the district’s plan to restructure elementary schools according to neighborhoods in addition to the creation of a magnet school can restore some of that pride.

“The pride doesn’t (have to) go to ruin along with the building,” Brooks said.

Grennell said regardless of the fate of the campus north of town, the memories will last as a moment in time and progress is just a part of life.

But Wilson stands by his sentiment.

“They can make a car wash out of it as long as the building stays there,” Wilson said.

In Wilson’s mind, the brick and mortar are as sacred to him as Graceland is for some people, he said.

“The way I am about North Natchez is like a bunch of old people are about Elvis Presley.”

  • Anonymous

    North Natchez Class of 1971 was the first graduating class after the court order was handed down.  I remember, we didnt know what to expect after losing SVT.   Apprehension filled the air prior to school starting.  Then came the 1st day of school, as we entered the building the atmosphere and environment  was everthing we needed.  The staff, faculty, school board members, and community gave us the feeling of belonging once again.  We got busy, selecting our mascot, school colors, school song, organizing our various clubs, and sports activties, and soon the apprehension faded. You knew you were in the right place.  The teachers, faculty, parents, and staff help instilled the pride of being a NORTH NATCHEZ RAM. There are many life lessons in the halls of North Natchez, a place where you taught the whole person.  I hope the next school year, will give the students what they need academically, athletically, and spiritually. Once a Ram always a Ram, but as with anything else in life,time brings about change. Hello Magnet School!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    This is would make losts of RAMS sad….RENOVATE IT , REPAIR IT, BUT PLEASE DON’T TEAR IT DOWN..
    MEMORIES are etched in our minds foreve,r but just being able to pass my and see the building, brings on more memories.
    Same with THE MIGHTY BUCKS.  SVT.  To the PANTHERS, TO THE COUGARS AND JAGUARS. Thanks for not tearing it down. 

  • khakirat

    I  can’t understand why these school leaders knew this years ago at middleschool and didn’t care of business than to say this just happen??!! This why the school board and supr. need to be elected by the taxpayers to take care of business!!

  • Anonymous

    I went to Anchorage Junior High for one month at that building, then the ORDER came down, and everyone had to switch to the newly named SV Thompson Jr. High (which was previously a Sr. High School).  Anchorage Jr. High became NNHS.

    All that was done for the ORDER.  The ORDER resulted in an integrated school at SV Thompson Jr. High, we had one new kid in the ENTIRE SCHOOL that did not look like the rest of us.  He was a really nice kid, but he caught heck from some of the other kids (he should get an award).  He became one of us, and we made sure he was not bothered by anyone needlessly. 

    So the building went from Anchorage, to North Natchez, and finally to R Lewis.

    Never the less there were hundreds of students that subsequently developed into productive tax paying citizens that were nurtured by those hallways, and even more nurtured by the teachers that worked inside those walls.  It was a capital investment by the school district that has paid for itself hundreds of times over.

    Unfortunately the vast majority of those students relocated to distant locales to find good jobs, and pay taxes in distant towns and cities. 

    The greatest thing about that building were the teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, bus drivers, and etc that made it a great learning environment for thousands of kids.

    Stanton Hall, Rosalie, Emerald Mound, the Bluff, Under the Hill, and Anchorage / SVT / NNHS… all great local institutions
    that made life in Natchez a wonderful place to be.

    NOTE:  I must admit I didn’t walk inside Station Hall until I was almost 50, and haven’t been to Rosalie yet.  As for the Bluff… that is an entirely different discussion, but as a happily married man I can no longer discuss that part of my life!!!!