Community roots run deep within Jackson-Heights
Brad Edwards has spent most of his life in the small community of Jackson-Heights which lies between Tyler and Kilgore on Farm-to-Market Road 2767.
Edwards' family roots are deep in the area, and he continues the tradition of running the family store on Old Kilgore Highway in the heart of the community.
"My parents moved to California, and that is where I was born, but they moved back here, and I have been here ever since," he said.
Vernell March said the community today is made up of some older families, but the majority are families that moved to the area after 1964, when a county road was built connecting the Old Kilgore Highway with the new one.
March said the community was settled in the 1860s by white plantation owners and their slaves, but after the Civil War the plantation owners deeded their land to their slaves, who then sold it to other black families.
"This was cotton country and there was a gin right down the road where all the cotton farmed here went. So, the black families worked their farms and the gin owners had a deal with them," he said.
But the center of the community was its residents, and they were very concerned about education and took an active role in their children's scholastic upbringing.
Some of the area's education history was captured by Peggy B. Gill, an assistant professor of education at Stephen F. Austin University, who wrote a piece titled "Community, Commitment, and the African American Education: The Jackson School of Smith County, Texas 1925-1954."
Ms. Gill said the residents faced "overwhelming odds in the struggle to provide quality schooling for the community's children." However she stated in the piece, which is part of the Journal of African American History that they sacrificed and were able to overcome political pressure, unequal distribution of funds and inequitable treatment for their children's education.
Ms. Gill wrote that in 1900, there were 72 African American schools in Smith County, and the state's reorganization of schools resulted in white board members being placed in the school systems.
But Jackson School continued to be supported by the community by drawing on the "cultural capital to build an outstanding educational facility recognized throughout the state."
Sarah Ryder, a former student who Ms. Gill interviewed, said "It was important to have the school in your district, because your community has an identity."
Ms. Ryder said three men, Laney Mosely, Tommy Redwine and Lot Allen were the leaders in securing the school in the community. Before the school was built the children learned in several area churches, but after the school was built it served children for the entire area.
But despite the school being built, there were still obstacles. Ms. Gill wrote the government subsidies for Jackson School were not enough to feed the children, so the community gathered food and took it to the children during lunch recess.
In the 1940s, the school was named a county training school, where a variety of trades were taught to the students to better prepare them for a career.
One such project had the male students fabricating wood screens for the doors and windows of the houses, because the residents were so poor they did not have them on their homes. Another project was the construction of a log cabin to teach the student how to smoke and cure meats.
During the last week of school each year, there were plays, recitals and the entire community participated.
"That program is the thing that I remember the most," John Mosely said in Ms. Gill's paper.
The school was consolidated with the Chapel Hill District in 1954 and was desegregated in the 1970s, but March said he believes the school was the integral ingredient in the community.
March said he tries to gather as much history as it can about the community and is working with the Smith County Historical Society to bolster records.
"Sadly we've lost a lot of the history in the area, but the school and churches were such an important part of this community," he said.
Today, there are new homes being built in the area, a fire station sits on the corner of Old Kilgore and a blacktop road and the school is now Jackson Elementary in the Chapel Hill District.