Dr. Leslie-Burl McLemore will always look back with pride on his days at Delta Center School for the education it provided him and generations of other African-Americans in DeSoto County with during a time of school segregation.

The school, which is now Walls Elementary School, opened in 1959  and was one of three schools in DeSoto County built to educate African-Americans and get around court ordered school desegregation following the U.S. Supreme Court “Brown vs. Board of Education” case.

Delta Center School lasted for 11 years until it was desegregated in 1970, and was later enlarged and reopened as Delta Elementary, then became Walls Jr. High in 1973 and Walls Elementary in 1994.

McLemore, who was part of the first class to graduate the K-12 school in 1960, said Delta Center School brought black students together from southwest and northern DeSoto County and created a new sense of community.

“Prior to Delta Center School, we didn’t have that sense of community,” McLemore said. “It brought black students together who before that were in different small buildings, churches, shanties, and ill-prepared buildings where we had one or two room schools. It allowed us to assemble together and handle desegregation.”

McLemore said the parents of the students who attended Delta Center School were extremely proud and supportive and may be the greatest unsung story of Delta Center's success. 

“You could call a PTA meeting and be overwhelmed with parents,” McLemore said. “They took great pride in the school and they took great pride in helping to foster the education of their children and seeing their children get an education.”

McLemore credits the faculty for encouraging he and his fellow students to go on and attend college.

“I had one teacher, Reverend Burton who taught civics,” McLemore said. “He was really an inspiration. He was a graduate of Rust College, which is where I ended up going. He influenced me to go to Rust. And I had a Mr.  Kennedy who taught us social studies. He was also responsible for the Hi-Y and Tri-Hi-Y clubs which were the equivalent of the YMCA for black students in those days. He was an Alcorn State University graduate and of course wanted us to go to Alcorn, but Reverend Burton won out and most of us ended up going to Rust.”

McLemore points with pride at the fact that many Delta Center School alumni went on to have successful careers in education, politics, and every other walk of life.

“I was the first Delta Center School graduate to get a Ph.D,” McLemore said. “My late brother, Eugene, was the first Delta Center School graduate to get a law degree. My college roommate, Dr. John Anthony, was the first African-American to get a Ph.D in music in DeSoto County. And then there were people who came after us who went on to receive law degrees and Ph.Ds. It trained two or three generations of African-American leaders from 1959 to 1970.”

But more importantly for McLemore,  Delta Center School created life-long friendships. Alumni hold bi-annual class reunions to stay in touch and celebrate the legacy of the school.

“Those reunions are important now because it helps maintain that sense of community that we developed all those years ago and all those friendships which have become life-long friendships for so many of us,” McLemore said.

Delta Center Reunion sponsors a Black History program each year. This year’s program will be held on Saturday, February 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church at 6461 Highway 161 in Walls. The theme for the 2023 program is “Black Resistance - Then and Now.” Dr. McLemore will be the keynote speaker.

“We are highlighting Dr. McLemore because he’s been a part of the modern day resistance since 1963 when he became the first African-American to register to vote in DeSoto County,” said Clarence Christian. 

The program will also feature two other Delta Center students who left prior to the 1970 mandate and went to Horn Lake school, and Mayor Keidron Henderson, the first black mayor of Walls whose mother went to Delta School.

“It looks back over 400 years of resistance to enslavement, resistance to stereotypes, resistance to oppression, resistance to police violence, and resistance to extra-legal violence by Klansmen and other groups from the beginning until recent,” Christian said.

Christian came to Delta Center School in the eighth grade and graduated in 1964. The school had no texbooks when it opened, no equipment in the science lab, and no books in the library.

He said the school was a special place because it provided education opportunities that had previously not been available to African-Americans in DeSoto County.

“Up until 1957, we didn’t really have a high school for negroes at all in DeSoto County,” Christian said. “It was quite interesting how we handled that situation. We had an excellent faculty and it provided an opportunity to gather in a place with other black people and be recognized as a human being. We took the opportunity that was provided and expanded it into something really great. A lot of our graduates did very well in the community.”

Christian helped in the effort to get a historical marker put up in 2020 and continues to keep the school’s legacy alive by attending reunions and organizing the Black History program.

“We have been holding these programs since about 1994, but it became more formal around 1994,” Christian said. “It is important to celebrate and elevate the legacy of Delta Center and its alumni.”


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