MERIDIAN — The birth of a college
Fifty years ago last month, Dec. 4, 1962, the citizens of Meridian gave a gift that keeps on giving
A $4 million dollar school bond issue was passed by the voters of the city, with $1.2 million earmarked for building a new and separate campus for Meridian Junior College (MJC).
Less than 5,000 voters participated in this bond issue vote, which was spear-headed by the Committee for Betters Schools whose members included Laurence Paine, John Egger, Mrs. Roland Kimbrell and Mrs. P.A. Mikell.
Since its founding in 1937, MJC, or the 13th and 14th grades of Meridian High School, was housed on the same 23rd Avenue campus. By the early 1960s, conditions on the original campus became crowded and hampered the growth of both the high school and the college programs.
The bond issue allowed the parent body of MJC, the Meridian Separate School District, to acquire and build a new campus for the college in the western part of town - just off Eighth Street. This parcel of land had been part of the East Mississippi State Hospital property on what was the facility’s hog farm.
The rest of bond funds were spent on other projects within the Meridian Public Schools. It is not clear how much, if any, of this bond issue was allocated to Harris High School and Junior College which was a segregated institution for blacks. It was also administered by the Meridian Separate School District. Both schools operated 13th and 14 grades.
In the 1962 issue of "The Community College in the South: Progress and Prospects," Dr. Lindsey Ogletree Todd, then superintendent of Meridian Separate School District and president of Meridian Junior and Harris Junior Colleges, wrote the article, "Trends in Development of the Community and Junior College in Mississippi." He wrote, “The State has not realistically faced the challenge of providing post-secondary education for its great body of Negro youth.”
This is a remarkable statement emanating from a leader of an educational system with two separate institutions of higher learning in which the cost of maintaining both was an less than effective use of scarce resources. Easy perhaps for us now to look back and wonder at the cost to both races as the community sought to give the image of separate but equal.
Dr. William F. Scaggs was hired as the dean of MJC in 1963.
While the new campus was being constructed, MJC moved to the old Stevenson Elementary School building, where it would begin the process of separating from Meridian High School.
The new college campus designed by local architect William Archer was dedicated on May 23, 1965, and its initial building was named in honor of the Dr. Horace Macaulay Ivy, the founding superintendent of the public junior college in Meridian.
In the Fall of 1969, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court ordered the Meridian Separate School District to close T. J. Harris Junior College and to ensure that all students of the district were guaranteed access to Meridian Junior College. It must be noted, however, the firsts blacks to enroll at the new campus of MJC registered in 1966 — three years before Harris closed. Among the first were Roscoe Jones, Edna Hardaway, Edna Graham, Helen Stewart, Hazel Trussell, Bernice Rackley and Addie Goines.
Today, MCC helps to support the medical centers that employ and serve the people of East Mississippi and West Alabama with nurses and most of the allied health specialists used in the medical industrial complex.
In addition, the college prides itself on responding to the needs of local industry, especially start-up training, supplying support over the years for companies such as Peavey Corp., Sunbeam Electric, Delco Remy, Lockheed of Georgia, N.E.W. Corp., Handy Hardware and National Blank Book/Avery Dennison, to name a few.
MCC is a leader in university transfer, cost effectively preparing local students for advancement to the university of their choice not only for the schools in Mississippi, but also for any university in the world.