In May, Mississippi Department of Archives and History designated the former Lee High School a Historic Landmark, the highest designation the department awards. The historical significance, according to the department, is the fact that the school was the white high school in Columbus during segregation.
The designation allows the owner to qualify for substantial tax credits for redeveloping the property.
At the time Lee High was designated as historically significant, Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Nancy Carpenter said the former Hunt High School — the black high school during segregation — would be designated as a Historical Landmark at a later date. Carpenter also sits on the board of MDAH.
Over six months have passed since Lee received the designation, and still Hunt’s recognition has not been taken up by the state board.
Multiple people involved with MDAH admit the Landmark designation was awarded primarily to make the purchase of the Lee property more attractive to prospective developers.
We question the historical significance of the Lee property. But if the former white high school is to be designated as historically significant, then Hunt must also be designated as such. Period.
In the absence of Landmark status for Hunt, it appears MDAH’s designation of Lee was awarded solely due to the development potential for that property.
We believe this is a perversion of the Historic Landmark designation, and makes us question the ultimate intent of the MDAH board.
There’s no excuse for MDAH not to address this matter at their next meeting. If they don’t, we fear it’s possible we will look back 20 years from now and realize we have a “historically significant” white school and no matching recognition for the black school.
The optics of the situation are simply embarrassing.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.