Honoring Abbeville’s history, one old school building at a time

Published 5:32 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Profile 2024: Honoring Abbeville’s history, one old school building at a time

By Alyssa Schnugg
Photos submitted

More than 15 years ago, the Abbeville community rallied behind an idea from one of their newer neighbors, Janice Carr, who took up the reigns to lead the charge in getting the dilapidated old Abbeville School renovated.

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Ann Delores Herod was one of those people.

A board of directors was formed and the building’s name changed to the Gordon Community and Cultural Center. The fundraising and renovation efforts soon followed.

Herod has served as the board’s secretary and treasurer for “many years.”

“Janice was new here and she saw a need and I just felt we needed to help her,” Herod said. “This is our community and these buildings were just getting destroyed. Kids would throw rocks at the windows. I just thought, I can at least do something to help and not to sit back.”

The school was built in 1949 and opened to students in January 1950 for grades first through eighth. The land for the school was donated by the Gordon family, who lived in Abbeville. It was the first “real” school many of Abbeville’s black children ever attended. Most had attended one-room schools in church buildings before the Abbeville School was built.

A second building was built a few years later for ninth through 12th grades. In the 1960s, a third building was built for grades first through sixth and the original building served as a middle school for seventh and eighth-grade students.

Ann Delores Herod is on the Gordon Community and Cultural Center Board of Directors. Pictured is Abbeville school. (Submitted)

However, when schools were integrated in the late 1960s, the Abbeville School was closed and its students were transported to the public schools in Oxford.

The school stood deserted for more than 40 years. In the 1970s, the state opened up a Head Start school in the newer of the three buildings. It shut down years later and moved to Oxford where it is now the Mary Cathey Head Start. The second building that served as the high school was demolished in the 1980s.

“We had a lot of people come out and help and we got some younger folks to come and help when we first went into the building to clean it out,” Herod said. “You wouldn’t believe what we found in there. It was just a mess.”

After several years of fundraising and elbow grease from community members, the Gordon Center was completed enough to start holding an after-school program and summer enrichment program in 2014, where Herod taught several topics including history and language arts, and watched over the younger children at the after-school program.

In 2020, the Gordon Center was officially listed as a Mississippi historic landmark.

Herod and her fellow board members aren’t done yet. Fundraising continues to renovate the former Head Start building in hopes of turning it into a trade school for adults in the fields of carpentry, electrical and plumbing.

Herod wasn’t raised in Lafayette County. She grew up in Greenville and moved to Lafayette County after meeting her husband, James Herod, who went to school at the Abbeville School as a child. His father, the late Rev. Arthur Herod served on the Abbeville School board.

They have three children – Anne-Marie, Jordan and Caleb.