NEOSHO, Mo. — A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Neosho Colored School, 639 Young St., will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday to celebrate the progress being made on the school's rehabilitation and preservation.
The historic building became the first school dedicated for use by African American students in Newton County in 1872, and it is the only surviving public school building attended by scientist and humanitarian George Washington Carver. Representatives from the Carver Birthplace Association, a philanthropic partner to the George Washington Carver National Monument, will facilitate the celebration while recognizing local volunteers and organizations whose efforts have made the work possible.
"The ribbon-cutting is not to celebrate completion, by any means," Carver Birthplace Association chair Kim Mailes said. "We've got a long ways to go, but we've also come a long way."
Mailes said contractors were hired to pick up the building, move it aside, build a new concrete foundation and place the existing structure on that foundation. In addition to a new foundation, doors and windows, a new roof was also recently added, with labor donated by Phillip Camerer Roofing.
"I'm real proud that local contractors have done this historic restoration work," Mailes said. "Oftentimes, parks will have to hire outside historical renovation experts, but we've been able to take care of it all locally, with the help of some really talented contractors."
Now that the exterior is completed, Mailes said, the association plans to tackle the building's interior, working to make the rooms look like a classroom from the time period. The goal is to host educational events.
The school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 2017. Its significance, Mailes said, lies not only in its rarity as an African American educational institution from the Reconstruction period after the Civil War but also in the school's impact on Carver's life and future. Carver is believed to have attended the school for about a year and a half when he was 10 to 12 years old.
"Not only was it (Carver's) first formal education, but it was also his first real immersion and acquaintance with African American society. He'd never been around many African Americans before, besides his own brother, and there was a thriving black society in Neosho at the time," Mailes said.
The Neosho Colored School eventually became significant for many local African Americans. During its operation from 1872 to 1891, the school enrolled up to 60 students per term, from ages 5 to 26, Mailes said.
"Carver referred to education as 'the golden door to freedom,'" Mailes said. "And at the school, scores of African Americans received their first taste of freedom and a chance to better themselves in a new society."
The ribbon-cutting is sponsored by the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce. Donations can be made at Carver National Monument in Diamond.