’Well-deserved TLC’: Jackson County couple works to revitalize historic black school

Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 12:04 AM CST
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NEWPORT, Ark. (KAIT) - As the start of Black History Month gets underway, one couple is working on a special project to revitalize the history and legacy of W. F. Branch High School in Newport.

The Purple and Gold Pirates once walked the halls and study in the classrooms at the school that was built in 1923. It was originally known as the Newport Colored School.

The school eventually closed in 1970 after Branch High and Newport High school integrated. Several small businesses occupied the space after the closing; however, the doors shut for good in 2004.

But Roderick and Latasha Robinson are now working to turn the entire building into a one-stop-shop.

“We just wanted to see something done with it. We didn’t want it to rot away. There’s so much history, so many people that remember this building and we want to make sure we can keep that alive,” Latasha said.

They are hoping to turn the school into a community center, museum, a space for small businesses and even a pediatrician’s office.

“We’re located right in the nest, in the hub of a residential area so what better business to bring here than one that the community can use,” Latasha said.

Located south of the Blue Bridge and on the west side of town, the school and area was and is still home for several in the black community.

There are still old school files from students who attended the school, including Roderick’s grandmother, Shirley Jean Robinson.

“We talked to some of the alumni; the 100th year is approaching, and we are excited to get this building back up in the next two years,” Roderick said.

Several alumni and staff are still living and are happy to hear a new breath of life would be put into the school.

“They were elated to know that this building is getting some well-deserved TLC and that it would be utilized for the community at large. Some of them were brought to tears. I can’t tell you the stories we’ve had,” Latasha said. “When we were doing demo work, the volunteers that were coming and helping us and saying ‘I learned my ABCs in this room or my grandmother taught in this building for 30 years and then my mom taught here for 10 years.”

Within the next two years, they are hoping step by step they can open the building to the community, but also pass it down to those who come after them.

“We would like to see our children take this over and still provide the same opportunities for growth for this community. Showing the youth, they can stay right here in little ole Newport, Arkansas, and do very big things,” Latasha said.

Big things those in 1923 paved the way for and now those in 2021 pushing to keep alive.

“For this to be another baton that was passed, another torch that was passed, and a fire that was ignited that can never be put out,” Latasha said.

They are funding the entire project with their own money, but they say several in the community have given in different forms of help by providing their time and resources.

There’s also a Facebook page dedicated to the growth, preservation and help needed to make it come to life. You can find out more information, here.

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