By SALLY SEXTON
It’s been 14 long, and occasionally impatient, years for Raymond George.
For more than a decade, the Weatherford native has been devoted to a project close to his heart and heritage — restoring the Old Mount Pleasant Colored School.
“We want people to understand that we haven’t gone away,” George said of himself and committee in charge of the project. “We’re still here and we’re still working at this.”
Mount Pleasant was built as a two-room schoolhouse for African Americans in 1917, a time when segregation in schools was present.
George and his classmates attended the school until the ninth grade, when they were bussed to I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth. The school provided education until 1962, when schools integrated.
It wasn’t until 2011 that George and his team really got the task rolling by getting the word out about the project and generating community interest.
“That’s when people really got interested,” he said. “That’s when I began to understand that the people of this community are sympathetic and they do understand that we’re trying to preserve history.”
After a fund-raising campaign, the committee was able to generate $44,000 in public donations from August-November 2011, enough to buy the Mount Pleasant property, located south of West Oak Street.
“It was really impressive to me that as bad as the economy was, people still wanted to donate to a little black schoolhouse that I thought nobody cared about,” George said.
After the outpouring of support, the George began the process of clearing off the property, which included overgrown weeds and trees. A fence was put up around the school to try and prevent vandals from getting in.
Now, George’s main goal is to continue work on the structure itself. A new roof, donated by Roof King LLC, was recently put on the school.
“I also had another friend that donated a track loader, and we had a guy come out and use that to haul and move a lot of the dirt,” George said. “I thought we would be moving forward after that, but we’ve slowed down.”
With a new roof and the grounds cleared, work must be done on the inside in order to preserve the classrooms.
“Now we need to get it dried in, and by that, I mean we need to get windows and doors put in to save the inside from weather and that type of thing,” George said.
So far, estimates for the types of windows needed, 3-1/2 feet wide and 8 feet high, range from $23,000 to $25,000. There are 14 spaces to fill with windows throughout the building.
“The estimates were astronomical,” George said.
As an alternate solution, the group will be taking advantage of a grant issued to the city. The grant will fund training services for troubled youth ages 18-21, teaching them skills in construction.
“They are now in training and learning how to use tools and such,” George said. “This grant provides them with training and construction experience, and they will get paid minimum wage for their work.
“The training program has told me that they think the [youth] may be able to build the windows themselves.”
The two- to three-year grant provides the training as well as $150,000 for materials, to be divided between the Mount Pleasant efforts and the Holland Lake Girl Scout Camp restoration project.
Many other businesses have contributed to the cause, including Home Depot, which donated toilets and bathroom sinks for all of the building’s lavatories.
The City of Weatherford and Weatherford Police Department have also stepped up, helping monitor the area to discourage vandals.
“I’ve really poured my heart into this project and I’ve realized that this community has been so compassionate,” George said.
George said the impact of the school’s education has been something he has been questioned about many times.
“People ask me, what kind of education could I possibly have here,” he said. “But the truth is we got a very good education. You had teachers come out of that school, bank presidents, policemen, nurses.
“We’re all very proud of where we came from.”
Beginning in the Spring, the committee is planning on setting up various events to help drum up funds, including a massive barbecue for the community.
“I want the Mount Pleasant School to be restored as close to its original structure as possible,” George said. “I’m not very patient, but I’m 75 years old, and I’d like to see this happen soon.”
To get involved with the restoration, contact George at 817-304-3519.