The history and future of Lincoln School

On this the last day of February and the last day of Black History Month, let’s look at the history of Lincoln School.

For those who may not know, the Lincoln School (the one-room schoolhouse located on the corner of Washington Avenue and Pony Thomas) was for African American children in West Plains from 1920 to 1954 when Brown Vs. The Board of Education ended segregation. The building we see today was built in 1920, however, Lincoln School records date back to the early 1900s.

Lincoln School was a grade school (first through eighth grade), so African American teens that wanted a higher education had to go to Springfield or St. Louis to go to high school. As a result, most moved or joined the workforce.

The Lincoln School represented to the African American citizens of West Plains a chance to learn in an environment that lacked racial tension. It afforded many an opportunity to dream big. All who attended were of humble beginnings, and it is those beginnings at the Lincoln School which provided the foundation for a productive life.

At the turn of the century, only 35 years removed from slavery, one would surmise that many of the inaugural students at The Lincoln School were only one generation removed. The urgency and importance of what this institution represented is undeniable. Historically, the Lincoln School was the center of social activity and community gatherings.

“Parents beamed with pride that they could afford to allow their children the opportunity to attend school, working in lieu of education was the norm,” said Crockett Oaks III.

Prominent citizens of the African American community passed through the doors of the Lincoln School, see below:

• West Plains first African American city councilwomen and University of Missouri graduate: Ms. Jeannette Forbes

• Buffalo Soldier & highly decorated WWIl hero and accomplished baseball player: SSG Mr. Robert A. Givehand

• Highly decorated WWIl hero: PFC Jewell Talton

• West Plains Zizzer football great: Johnnie Finley

• West Plans High School’s first African American graduate Mary Francis (Oaks) Binkley

• Civic-minded and the last remaining attendee of the Lincoln School in Howell County, West Plains H.S. Graduate Class of 1965, Retired Army National Guard Soldier, and State of Missouri Dept of Transportation employee: Crockett Oaks Jr.

Future plans for Lincoln School

The City of West Plains city council has approved plans to sell the Lincoln School property to Oaks III and his wife, Tonya.

The Oaks family plans to renovate the 100-year-old building and Crockett Oaks III explained that he is very excited about the programing possibilities once the restoration is complete. He has a lot of ideas and is looking forward to hearing from various community members. Oaks uses the Eddie May Herron Center and Museum located in Pocahontas, Arkansas as a reference for what the Lincoln School can evolve to be. The Harrison School located in Tipton, Missouri is another segregation era African American school that has undergone restoration. Oaks draws inspiration from those efforts; thus he believes that the West Plains community will also positively respond to his efforts to save the Lincoln School.

“The rich history of the Lincoln School will continue to provide a place of inspiration for those citizens seeking to learn about issues of diversity and inclusion, Ozark folklore and most importantly, its great legacy on the community in which it served,” Oaks said to members of the West Plains City Council at the February 21st meeting.

The Oaks family will facilitate the preservation of the Lincoln School in a manner that will surely qualify it to be included on the National Park Services Register of Historic Places. The Lincoln School will also serve as the repository of records for the Sadie Brown Cemetery, located in Howell County.