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Shady Grove remembered: Vernon honors historic school

By Carol Kent Wyatt | Washington County News @CAROLKENTWYATT

VERNON – The Vernon Historical Society hosted the long-awaited dedication of the historical marker for Shady Grove Elementary School on Saturday, February 20, at the former site of the historic school, 3187 Shady Grove Road in Vernon. The school is now the sixth Washington County historic site to display a marker.

Members of the community gathered with former students and teachers Saturday, February 20, as the Vernon Historical Society hosted dedication ceremonies for placement of the Shady Grove Elementary School historical marker.

Community members gathered with former students and teachers to commemorate the occasion in a program sponsored by Vernon High School which celebrated both the marker’s placement and Black History Month.

The school, which was completed on a budget of $58,185 in 1953, was constructed on six acres of land donated by Roland and Ida Pompey. Shady Grove was designed to centralize the education of Black children in Vernon and the surrounding area, offering grades 1-8. Although the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision declared public school segregation unconstitutional, integration in the Washington County School District did not take place until May 28, 1965, a year after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This historical marker was placed at the site of the former Shady Grove Elementary School during a ceremony on Saturday.

The school district deactivated Shady Grove Elementary School in 1969, and the building was cut into four sections which were moved and later used as classrooms in the newly built Vernon Elementary School. The school board later transferred ownership of Shady Grove site to the City of Vernon, with the site eventually becoming a public park, appropriately named Shady Grove Park.

While the school is no longer standing, many who walked its halls say their memories remain vivid.

There are no known photos of Shady Grove Elementary School, but this artist rendering gives an idea of what the school looked like.

Audrey (Smith) Tigg attended the Shady Grove Elementary from 1956 to 1963.

“I can still see in great detail our school bus turning off Highway 79,” said Tigg. “I can see the layout of the school, basketball court, and the baseball diamond. In fact, if someone was good at drawing, I could describe the entire layout, and they could draw it from my memories.”

Former Shady Grove Elementary teacher Joseph Williams speaks at the dedication services for the placement of the school’s historic marker.

“We had good teachers,” she added. “Mamie Roulhac Jackson was our basketball coach, and members of the community would drive us around to the different games.”

Tigg recalled that before a cafeteria was added in the mid 60s, student lunches were brought from Vernon High School by a bus driver.

“I often got to help serve lunches, and we would serve them from the broom closet,” says Tigg. “They would put the lunches in number 3 tubs, and students would line up to take their turn being served and then take their plates back to their classroom to eat.”

Former student Gwen (Green) March, who is the granddaughter of Roland and Ida Pompey, now serves as a member of Vernon City Council and says the annual “May Day” celebration is her fondest memory.

“It was a big celebration,” said March. “The school fried fish, the parents would bring sides and desserts, and my uncle, Collie Pompey, would make a large serving of lemonade. We would have a May King and Queen and do the May Pole.” March says she hopes to eventually bring the May Day tradition back to the site at Shady Grove Park.

March also states that Thomas McDougald, Sr., the school’s first principal, not only was responsible for giving the school its name; he was also instrumental in ensuring students were exposed to the arts.

“If you didn’t know what kind of singing voice you had, he could tell you if you were an Alto or a Soprano,” she said. “He led a school choir, and he always had us singing. We always sang at that school.”

Washington County School Board member and former Shady Grove Elementary student Milton Brown served as emcee of the event.

Vernon Historical Society Secretary-Treasurer Lynda Waller says the installation of the marker is vital to preserving the school’s place in local history.

“If we do not mark our historical places, it won’t be long before they disappear,” said Waller. “This marker serves as a silent reminder of the end of segregation of Washington County Schools and the role that Shady Grove Elementary School played in the education of African American children in Washington County.”

Waller also states although the Historical Society was able to obtain an artist rendering of what the school looked like, there are no known photos of Shady Grove, and the organization would welcome any photos shared from the public.

Anyone who has photos of Shady Grove Elementary School is asked to call Waller at 334-494-4090.

The Vernon Historical Society contributed to this report.