Prying open the door; Hattiesburg High students tell stories of desegregation

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) — In the early 1970’s public schools, by law, were forced to integrate. Stories have been told from other schools across the nation but students from Hattiesburg High School are conducting their own research to find leaders who were directly affected by the nation-wide change –but what’s not talked about as much is specifically what took place in Hattiesburg.

“I think that the story of desegregation is an important one and it’s been told in other venues. Arkansas, Atlanta, New Orleans but we don’t know have a very good sense about what happened in our own town of Hattiesburg,” explains Thomas O’Brien a Education professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Seniors from Hattiebsurg High School are spending their spring break interviewing former students and teachers who were a part in the first integrated class at Hattiesburg High.

The title of the project is: Prying Open the Door and Taking a Seat: The Story of Desegregation of Hattiesburg High

On Wednesday, Mayor Johnny Dupree was interview.

Dupree attended Rowan High School during the time schools were segregated. When the schools became integrated he says he was not ready or prepared for them but made the best out of it and it has since shaped him into the man he is now.

Sharee Thomas, a senior at Hattiesburg High Schools explains what the project that began back in November has meant to her and what it will mean to the community.

“We feel that it’s important so that students like us can know how we’re able to receive our education and we’re able to really learn where we come from and with that learn where we can go. All the people that were involved in this project were monumental in the civil rights movement and we feel like it’s just a continuation of their legacy,” says Thomas.

Students working on the project are also working along side the Education Department at the University learning techniques about oral history but knowing the depth of the actual history.

“I think they’re going to figure out how they are a part of a larger movement to..for racial equality in America,” said O’Brien.

“So it’s really discovering those people who maybe we have known what the impact they had on our community,” says Thomas.



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