Roots of Turner High School
Before the integration of schools in Panola County, educational facilities were maintained separately for Black residents of this county. According to Mrs. Jones, the education of local Negroes has its tap root anchored in the the middle of the last century.
In the late 1860's or 70's, the Allison family, pioneers in the county, provides the first school for the two communities of Quarters and Carthage. The joint school was taught by Sonny Boykins and then by Alex Holland. The school was later moved to the Carthage community near the Mt. Zion Cemetery where Professor Holland continued to teach. Following Holland's tenure, Mack McCarver, who was also a lawyer, took over. Again the school was moved, to a place near the Panola Grain and Grocery Company. Here McCarver and his flock of students occupied a small newly-constructed log cabin. It is believed hat the the next teacher was Joseph Benton, the uncle of Clara Hudson, one of the oldest graduates. As the community continued to grow, the school was again moved to a site near the Ice Company.
Around 1903, J.C. Tatum took over the reins of disciplining the minds of boys and girls in this town. The dates are not clear, but between 1903 and 1906, J.C. Tatum, Jim Benton, Rowe, Joseph Benton, and Clara Benton taught. By this time, it seems the school had become a two-teacher school with Mr.Joseph Benton upstairs and Clara Benton downstairs in a two-story building with only one room on each floor.
During 1906 to 1922, J.C. Tatum returned. The school at this time was more or less an upgraded, split-term school with three or four months of winter classes and one or two months in the summer. This arrangement allowed students to help with work on the farms. However, much credit should be given to Mr. Tatum, who with patience and thoughtful care, directed the activities of the school through these difficult times.
In 1922, education for Blacks in Panola County took a decided turn forward when A.L. Turner assumed command, bringing a new era in the educational life of Carthage Colored people. On the trapezoid-shaped site bordered by Spring, Lucus, Hudson and Sanders streets, a red brick two-story school with four classrooms, an auditorium, and office space replaced the old two-story frame school. Here began the destiny of the Colored Turner High School. Mr. Turner brought a faculty of Linnie Starks, Susie Sneed and Briana Turner, his wife. At this point in history, most small towns did well to teach about the seventh grade becasue of such few teachers and split school terms. With Mr. Turner being a natural builder, he began the ground work for Carthage Colored High School. In the Spring of '23, there was no graduating class, but the following year a tenth grade class exercise was held. Each year thereafter, a group held their commencement, commencing indeed to join the struggle to become better prepared citizens.
The early teachers were indeed smart because many of them attended school for seven years, split terms of seven or less months and learned enough to go to the county examinations that were prepared by White teachers based on the curriculum of the State of Texas. They would pass such tests and teach in the winter, attending Prairie View Normal (now Prairie View A & M University) or some church supported college during the summer. These beginnings made strong roots.
During the fall of 1927, Mrs.Iona Dockery, whose classroom was the drafty auditorium, taught piano after classes and played for many programs that were given to develop culture, to entertain, and to raise money for some of the things needed for the children who lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Teachers continued to be added, and by 1929 the school term was lengthened, because the community supported it by attending and praying and believing that all things through Christ worketh together for good.
Q.M. Martin came on the scene, and relying heavily on the recommendations of Turner, the faculty continued to grow. Intellect, dedication, and creativity were prerequisites in a faculty. The teachers did not think in terms of grades, but pupils. Carthage Colored High School officially became a 12-year in 1932. By this time, running water replaced the well and bucket, but the outdoor privies were still there. In 1932, Dr. Caesar Toles and Dr. Freddie Dolly Witherspoon (Dr. Witherspoon now resides in St. Louis, Missouri) joined the faculty. Spanish and science, without a laboratory was added. Soon a frame annex was built - more teachers were added including Mrs. Odell Everhart (now retired and residing in Longview) who headed the homemaking department. Her salary unfortunately was supplemented by funds raised by the PTA. The town continued to grow, but money for Negro education continued to be limited. Nevertheless, with a growing number of young teachers, CCHS students became known to colleges throughout the state.
Near the end of the 1940's, Mr. Turner's health failed, and in 1950 ill health forced him into retirement. The town paid tribute to more than 30 years of educational growth made possible because of faith, hope and hard work of Mr.Turner during the dedication of the new building and campus. Mr Q.M. Martin suggested that this new school be named Turner High. For the first time, in 1950, the school had two principals - Following Joseph Jones as elementary principal were Mr. Ezra Carroll (deceased), Mr. T.J. Ingram, and Mr. E.W. Brewster.
Arzie Sanders, a native and graduate of this school, is further proof of the kind of students this small town developed. The year 1950 marked the beginning of a new era. With this strong and capable leader at the helm for more than 20 years, the graduating classes grew larger and larger. The second tremendous program of academic growth and physical expansion was begun - gymnasium was constructed, more classrooms added, another brick building was constructed in the rear to add more classroom space, and a new agriculture facility was added.