LENA MITCHELL: Preserving Burnsville’s little-known African American history

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

BURNSVILLE – The Burnsville Colored School is an African American landmark, with plans under way to restore and preserve this symbol of the town’s African American history as a museum site.
The project is particularly significant because no African Americans lived in the Tishomingo County town of fewer than 1,000 residents for a number of years, and several generations of the county’s school children have grown up unaware that the town once had a thriving African American community.
The Tishomingo County Historical & Genealogical Society began work to reclaim the structure – one of the oldest in Burnsville – in 2009, according to Cindy Nelson, president of the Society.
The organization presented its 2010 Preservation Patron Award last week to Dr. Kelly and Martha Segars of Iuka, who donated land next to their Burnsville branch of First American National Bank, to which the historic building will be moved.
The new site is “a more practical environment where preservation will be more eminent,” Nelson wrote in her preservation grant application.
She also described the historical significance of the Burnsville Colored School in the application:
“The structure was operated exclusively as an African American public school from (about) 1910 until the 1970s, when statewide integration of public schools was mandated. From the time of its construction until the tishomingo County Public School System was integrated in the 1970s, the Burnsville Colored School provided one of only a few educational opportunities for the area’s African American citizens, teaching grades one through eight. At times adult education classes were also provided on the premises.”
A significant figure in reclaiming the history of the school was the late Clara Hines McClusky, a Burnsville native and school teacher who left to obtain an education and teach, and later returned to teach in Burnsville for several years. McClusky had provided background information on the old school building.
Although the school was first used as a classroom, it later served as the sanctuary for African American worship services, according to McClusky.
A tribute to McClusky written by Burnsville resident Carolyn Gaines reveals some of McClusky’s history.
Born Nov. 21, 1903, McClusky was one of 11 children of Andrew Ausberry “Berry” Rhodes Hines and Julia “Aunt Julie” Corelious Metilda Frances Counts, both born into slavery.
After finishing eighth grade in the little one-room Burnsville school, McClusky wanted to finish her education and worked all kinds of jobs to finance her studies, including hoeing and picking cotton and taking in people’s wash, Gaines wrote.
She went to training school in Tupelo to 10th grade, then on to finish high school in Savannah, Tenn. From there she attended Okolona College before completing her bachelor’s degree in history at Rust College in Holly springs. She married Sam McClusky of Cherokee, Ala., and they moved to Panola County where she taught school.
McClusky returned to Burnsville in 1960 after her husband’s death, and continued her career as an educator, a career than spanned 27 years.
Although I’m a native of Iuka, only 7 miles to the east of Burnsville, I never remembered that any African Americans lived in Burnsville when I was growing up. All of this history was new information that I’ve learned only in recent years.
Preserving places is an important aspect of remembering our history, and I applaud all who are working to bring this project to fruition.

Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.