Thompson alumni try to ‘live with’ school change

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 7, 2000

After a heated, emotional supervisors meeting Monday, Head Start officials, state Baptists and Thompson School alumni found a way to &uot;live with&uot; Adams County’s decision to give away the school.

Representatives from each side met Monday afternoon to discuss ways to maintain public access to the North Union Street School, though the county has voted to deed it to Head Start provider – AJFC Community Action Agency.

AJFC officials agreed Monday to deed the school’s gym and auditorium to the Thompson Era Reunion Alumni once it became AJFC’s property.

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AJFC officials said the gym and auditorium are of little benefit to the Head Start program. However, those parts of the building interest the Thompson alumni group the most.

The Thompson alumni group is currently working on acheiving its non-profit status, said State Rep. Phillip West, who spoke for the Thompson alumni.

They also agreed to deed some of the 26 acres property to the General Missionary Baptist State Convention so they can build a secondary boarding school.

&uot;I’m satisfied that’s going to work out and meet everybody’s needs,&uot;&160;said Lamar Braxton, CEO of AJFC.

The supervisors voted last month to deed the property to AJFC because the federally-funded agency needed proof of its future with the property to get grant-funding to building maintenance.

The agency has an August 31 deadline to award bids for roof repairs or its health department license could be in jeopardy.

The recent vote to deed the property, came just two weeks after the board voted 3-2 to give AJFC a long-term lease on the property.

Supervisors Darryl Grennell and Thomas &uot;Boo&uot; Campbell and school alumni think a long-term lease would also allow AJFC to secure funding while maintaining taxpayers ownership of the property by the alumni and the community.

&uot;That school means a lot to use,&uot;&160;said Eva Dunkley, Thompson alumni.

She said the alumni prefer for AJFC to lease the property but they can work with the new arrangement.

&uot;We are somewhat satisfied,&uot;&160; Dunkley said. &uot;It’s something we’ve got to live with.&uot;

Grennell also prefers a lease-agreement but said he’s accepted the decision to deed the property.

&uot;My position is still a lease,&uot; he said. &uot;(But) we just got to move forward and that’s where I’m at right now.&uot;

People filled the board room and spilled into the hallway, Monday morning, to hear the supervisors talk about the Thompson School issue.

Members of the audience spoke to the board, with AJFC CEO Lamar Braxton and West giving the history of the school and stating their positions.

West said many of alumni wanted either the county or a non-profit agency to own the school for sentimental reasons.

&uot;It as jewel in the hearts and minds of many people who grew up in Natchez-Adams County,&uot; he said,

Thompson alumni have held three reunions at the school in the past year, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. The alumni are planning their next reunion for 2003, West said.

Grennell made a motion at the meeting to give AJFC a 50-year-lease to Thompson but it died 3-2, with Supervisors Virginia Salmon, Sammy Cauthen and Lynwood Easterling voting against it.

Braxton has told the board either a lease or deed would help AJFC’s cause but said Monday he thought a deed would be better because it would be a more secure arrangement.

&uot;I’m convinced that a deed is in our best interest,&uot; Braxton said, adding that AJFC has no interest in the gym or auditorium, he said.

Comments from the audience got heated Monday with some implying racism was the reason for the board’s vote. The county’s vote to deed the property fell along racial lines.

The Rev. James Stokes, who is black, asked the audience to take note of the racial makeup of the board and said he was not surprised the board voted against the alumni.

&uot;In government we are in the minority. We knew that we were going to lose,&uot; he said. &uot;You don’t have our interests at heart.&uot;

And Ruby Gaylor, of Zion Chapel A.M.E. Church, read a letter from the church denouncing Supervisor Sammy Cauthen for comments he made against Supervisor Darryl Grennell after Grennell complained about not getting enough notice of the board’s last meeting on Thompson.

Gaylor said the remarks were unkind, unnecessary and showed &uot;a ruthless disregard for his colleagues.&uot;

Michael Winn, asked Cauthen to publically apologize to Grennell.

Cauthen declined saying he would think about it, but thought it was not the purpose of the meeting.

&uot;We’re here to discuss the Thompson School property,&uot; he said.

Dr. Jerry Young, president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention – the group that wants to build a boarding school at Thompson – suggested the group hold Monday afternoon’s informal meeting.

Young said his convention, that used to own the Thompson School property- asked the board two years ago for return of the property but community’s concerns caused him to change his mind.

Convention officials want to build a boarding school in Natchez because of its history in town with Natchez College

Natchez is the birthplace for the convention’s educational efforts and we want &uot;to be sensitive to our history,&uot; Young said.

&uot;We should not go dig new wells but simply unstop the old ones.&uot;