It’s was a journey lasting nearly two decades.
During that time, Raymond George has been eating, sleeping and dreaming of the day that he could look back on the restoration of his boyhood school and take a deep breath and know that it’s finally finished.
The 77-year-old retiree is doing just that, only his school holds a special significance as the last vestige of a by-gone era in Parker County. The school he helped preserve is the Mount Pleasant Colored School located on Dubellette Street in Weatherford.
Mount Pleasant taught first through ninth grades and graduated its last class in 1963 before Weatherford became integrated that following year. George himself graduated in 1953 and said he and several others had to be bused to I.M. Terrell, an all-black high school in Fort Worth, to complete their education.
There was little use for the building after that, and following more than 35 years of sitting vacant, the ravages of time took its toll on the structure.
George took on the mission to save and preserve the building in 1999.
“It really does seem to have taken a long time,” George said of he and his board’s efforts. “There were so many things that needed to be accomplished; and I had told so many people when I was intending to have this completed and it just went on and on.”
Not one to give up, George pressed forward, speaking at every occasion to keep his preservation efforts “top of mind” in the county. The result came at the end of 2014 and work on the building is complete.
Looking back, he said he allowed himself to experience a wide array of emotions, such as becoming frustrated dealing with the very people doing the work.
“I know people have other things to do...I’d get contractors to come in - work for a while and then leave,” he said. “It sort-of irritated me.”
But then he said he would remember that many, if not all, were volunteers.
“I’d sit around at night and think, ‘What would I do if I had to pay for all of this? What would this actually cost?’” George said. “I know I have well over $100,000 into this. The windows alone were more than $32,000. I can’t begin to thank the community for being so benevolent in helping with this project.”
George said he’s now working at getting a Texas State Historical Marker placed on the grounds where the two-room building stands with the help of the Parker County Historical Society.
The work now complete, however, and as agreed upon previously by his board, he reluctantly turned control of the facility to the City of Weatherford.
“I understand right now that turning this over to the city is probably the best thing I can do,” he said. “There’s no way I could keep this up and I know that the city has the personnel and equipment to do so.”
He said but there is another side, one he describes that feels more like a “parent,” making the decision to turn over the renovation project and building much more difficult.
“I’m going on my 16th year doing this,” George said. “You want to know how I feel about my little school? It’s like you have a child that you’ve been raising, only to find that you have to give them away after 15 years - how does that make you feel? This is my child and I have to give them away.”
He said he had a lot of “deep emotions” behind making that decision.
“But if I can get a historical marker on the building, and this becomes a functioning part of the city and people can benefit from it - that’s great - what more can you ask for?” George added. “The plans are great, but the only thing that concerns me is how soon is this going to be done. There’s still a a lot of work the city is talking about.”
Work that includes sidewalks that go around each side of the building, landscaping, fencing and a new paved parking lot.
“Raymond was the catalyst to get this project moving and, his dedication, drive and tenacity were instrumental in keeping it going,” said Sharon Hayes, Weatherford Assistant City Manager. “The Save the Mount Pleasant Colored School committee was formed and helped Raymond with the process. A few years ago, CLC Inc., through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, were able to get most of this work done and train some young people in the construction trade, while preserving some of the history of Weatherford.”
Hayes said the end results are “very positive.” The school has been restored, history preserved and the community has accomplished something of which to be proud.
“I made a commitment to myself to get this done,” George said. “Now here we are. This has been my dream - this is what I’ve been working for.”
George said Mount Pleasant taught first through ninth grades and graduated its last class in 1963 before Weatherford became integrated. George graduated in 1953 and said he and several others had to be bused to I.M. Terrell, an all-black high school in Fort Worth.
The problem was, George said, was that they didn't have a way to get to the school so his father, John Lorenzo George - an upholster in Weatherford and the only black businessman in town - made the commitment to see that the kids made it to class. The drive was 45 minutes each way since the highway ended at Summit Avenue.
"Every morning, my dad would pick up the kids that were going to I.M. Terrell, drive us over there and leave us, go back to work and then he would come back to pick us up," George said. "He did that everyday from '54 to '56 with his own vehicle and he continued until the city - as the classes grew bigger and bigger - provided him with a larger vehicle and a little money to help with the gas."
After graduating from Terrell, George went to work for the phone company where he remained for 40 years.
"I considered myself fortunate because I went to work for the in 1957 and, as you can imagine, the only job a black man could get with the phone company then was either a janitor - which was where I started - or as an elevator operator in the larger cities, or maybe on the loading docks," George said.
He added that he spent a lot of years working to the point where he could have a job that was paying like everyone else. That he, in fact, wanted what everyone else was doing and to make his family a living.
"It was strange; I went to Mineral Wells and had become an installer, the first black installer in the area," he said. "I had gone into a lot of white people's homes to install a phone and several times was asked to come to the back."
He said he understood because of the situation and the way things were, but that over time, he would have people writing his supervisor saying what a nice guy the " colored guy" was.
The real irony was to come, however, when George ran to become trustee for the Weatherford Independent School District.
"I took 90 percent of the vote," George said. "I look back and think I couldn't go to school with whites and now I am on the school board...how ironic."
George remembers Mount Pleasant and his teachers and superintendent fondly.
"It's interesting looking back over the years and thinking about what happened during that time when we went to I.M. Terrell; I can see where we were actually like a private school because we weren't associated with the district at all."
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102