Disappointment of the loss of one of the last original buildings of the old George Washington Carver High School at Lonoke was tempered by excitement with progress on a multi-cultural center and historical marker at the site.
The dedication of the historical marker and unveiling of the plans for the Carver Multi-Cultural Center were part of the triennial Carver High School Reunion held last week at Lonoke.
It also marked the culmination of more than 10 years of work to preserve the legacy of Carver High School and its first principal Frank T. Bunton that began with plans to build a new middle school, replacing the Carver High School building being used as a middle school.
The Rev. Lee Coleman, pastor St. Paul Baptist Church was master of ceremony. St. Paul Church played an active role in the history of Carver High School.
Speakers included Bunton’s son, Frank T. Bunton Jr., and Stephanie Livingston Rose, daughter of principal Marion O. Livingston.
Bunton said Carver High School is integral to his memories of his father, “All the time, this is where he was.” The high school was in his father’s heart, he said.
Coleman also emphasized the work and support of Raymond Hatton and Efrem Jones as city council members, Mayor Wayne McGee, County Judge Doug Erwin, and state Representative Walls McCrary for the grants and other support to build the new cultural center.
Unveiling of the historical marker memorializing Bunton and his vision was part of the dedication of the re-naming of the street that led to the school in Bunton’s honor, and marking the site as being on the National Register of Historic Places.
Past principal Marion O. Livingston, who led the school when it was integrated with Lonoke High School in 1970, was also honored for his contributions.
Bunton is recognized as the driving force behind transforming the school, originally named the Lonoke Colored School, into a high school. The original school, begun following World War II, served first through eighth grades. Until the school grew to 12 grades, black students who wished to continue into high school had to go to Little Rock.
Bunton’s goal was reached with the Class of 1950, the first for Carver High School. The school continued operating until 1970 with the integration of all students at Lonoke High School.
Carver Alumni Association president Lilly Turner said, “The center will provide a positive atmosphere of love for our children.” It will instill confidence and self-esteem, “and an avenue to achievement,” she said.
It will emphasize the importance of loving each other, Turner said. All these are what Bunton promoted to his students, she said.
Recreational, educational, civic service and other aids to the community will be promoted at the center, Turner said.
Originally, the Carver Alumni Association planned to convert the former Carver gymnasium into a multi-cultural center. But the poor condition of the structure and foundation led to the decision to raze the building.
“It was a difficult decision to make. But, in the end, it had to be done this way,” architect Ryan Biles said. “Costs prohibited us from doing what we wanted to so.”
However, the original structure will be remembered in the style of the Carver Center, he said.
Our vision is the new multi-cultural center will rise where the gym used to be,” Biles said. “But this is an opportunity to build a new facility that we can bring our children to,” he said.