Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
Marion Colored High School
Marion Colored High School

MARION COLORED HIGH SCHOOL, SUNSET, CRITTENDEN COUNTY

SUMMARY

The Marion Colored High School is a single-story, U-shaped structure that was constructed in 1924 with the wing projections added later. The original section is constructed of load-bearing brick, while the wing additions are of frame construction with a matching brick veneer. With the exception of some window alterations, the building does not appear to have been altered since the historic additions. The interior is largely original and features high-mounted awning windows for ventilation. Located on Arkansas Highway 77 in Sunset, Crittenden County, the Marion Colored High School is the only structure included within the boundaries of this nomination. The Marion Colored High School is being nominated under Criterion A with local significance as an amendment to the Minority Settlement in the Mississippi River Counties of the Arkansas Delta, 1870-1930 multiple property nomination.

ELABORATION

The town of Sunset is located less than a half mile north of Marion and is situated largely between Arkansas Highway 77 and Interstate 55. Incorporated in 1970, Sunset is an African-American community that was once referred to as the Sunset Subdivision of Marion. Although it is not known how the community acquired its name, the present town of 571 people originated primarily as a residential area that grew in response to the segregated school facilities located there by the Marion School District.

In 1924, the nominated property was constructed from money provided from the Julius Rosenwald fund as the first school at Sunset for black students. The school term was divided into a two month summer session and seven month winter session and accommodated students through the eighth grade. Although the formation of a black high school was discussed for several years, little became of the idea. According to Louis Lane, Jr., in the mid-1930s, the school principal, George Weddle, was able to raise the school curriculum to include the ninth and tenth grades. In 1937, Weddle's successor, Walter McMillan, approached the Marion School Board to request another teacher, which was apparently the final delay in acquiring high school status. The board denied his request due to a stated lack of funds. Undeterred, McMillan countered with an offer to pay for the teacher and charge students for tuition if the board would grant the request to form a high school. The Marion School Board acquiesced upon the condition that McMillan raise $1,000 to cover the teacher's salary for two years. McMillan then asked Louis, Lane, Sr., who knew the people of the community well, to help solicit contributions from the people in denominations generally ranging from twenty-five cents to a dollar. With aid of a letter from McMillan stating the goal of the fund drive, Lane was able to raise $800 toward the high school. With this money, their goal was quickly realized, and the new high school was created.

The tuition to attend the new high school was set at eight dollars a year and admission was open to all students. In addition to Arkansas children, black students from Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri took advantage of this opportunity and received a degree from the Marion Colored High School. The first class graduated in 1938. Students were charged tuition until 1943.

With the influx of new students, the school building was enlarged by the addition of two wings sometime prior to 1940. In 1955, the school district added 5.5 acres and constructed a grammar school. At this time, the original school was remodeled for its role as high school only. The building program also included an agriculture building and a gymnasium that was constructed in 1958 (this structure burned in 1964 and was replaced).

The school was renamed in honor of James Sebastian Phelix after his death. Phelix was a prominent Sunset resident who came to Arkansas from Louisiana and once owned about 400 acres of land near Waverly. He was active in Masonry and served as Grand Master of Negro Masons of Arkansas from 1922 to 1938. Phelix also established the Phelix Undertaking Company at Sunset in 1946.

The Marion Colored High School is locally significant under Criterion A for its association with both the Rosenwald Fund and the efforts to attain higher education for African Americans in Crittenden County. As such, it is being nominated as an amendment to the Minority Settlement in the Mississippi River Counties of the Arkansas Delta, 1870-1930 multiple property nomination.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Information submitted by Roberta Jackson and Louis Lane, Jr., May 1994.

Woolfolk, Margaret. A History of Crittenden County, Arkansas. Greenville, S.C.; Southern Historical Press Inc., 1991.