The Wechsler School in Meridian, Mississippi was the “first brick school for African Americans in the state built with public funds of Mississippi” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Wechsler School was operated as a public school from 1894 until 1983, after which it was used for various community purposes. Since 2004, the school building has sat vacant, waiting to discover its new purpose in the community.
In 2018, the Wechsler Foundation received a grant from the National Park Service to restore the 1951 addition to the school. In an effort to ensure that the future of the school building reflects the needs of the local community and celebrates Meridian’s Civil Rights heritage, the Foundation hired the Carl Small Town Center at Mississippi State University to engage local residents and community leaders to create a new vision for the Wechsler School.
In July 2018 the Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) team held a series of community engagement meetings in Meridian to allow local leaders and residents an opportunity to share their vision for the Wechsler School. Nearly every conversation about the future of Wechsler drew upon the school’s vibrant past as an education, arts, and activity center for children of color in the Meridian community.
Four key themes emerged from the CSTC’s conversation with the Meridian community with regard to the future of the Wechsler School site and building: Civil Rights commemoration, performing arts, physical activity, and after school education.
It is the community’s hope that the Wechsler School will serve as a thriving hub of arts, education, and activity for families in Meridian’s Red Line neighborhood in the same manner that it did for 89 years as a public school. By integrating these four elements into the revitalization of the Wechsler School, the community will be able to honor the school’s proud history while serving the needs of the local community.
The renovated Wechsler School building will provide the Red Line neighborhood with a variety of opportunities for arts, education, and physical activity in a way that brings the entire community together. It will be a place where Meridian citizens and visitors alike can explore the important role that the Wechsler School and other local sites played in bringing equal rights to Meridian’s African-American community.