The road to making the newly dedicated Liberty County Community Complex a reality took more than 10 years to travel. Community leaders recently recounted how the community-center renovation evolved and shared memories of the old Liberty County High School that served African-American students from 1952 to 1972.
The Liberty County School System fully integrated in 1972. The old high school then served as an elementary school.
Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown said renovations for the community complex were paid for with $5.2 million in special purpose local option sales tax funds. County officials held a grand opening for the complex last Friday.
“The community center has evolved over several phases and was developed as funding allowed,” Brown said. “It was the original Liberty County High School, which was transformed into an elementary school by the board of education when the new Liberty County High School opened. Facing abandonment, the Liberty County Board of Education and Liberty County Commission agreed to transfer properties — the school site for a piece of the old Liberty County airport. The piece of the old airport would eventually house the new career academy.”
The complex offers a community meeting room, the new Midway-Riceboro Branch of the Live Oak Public Library, a recreation programming room, a pool and administrative services, such as a county tag office to serve the county’s east-end residents.
A final phase will be added when funds allow, Brown said. Plans for the final phase of the complex include a walking trail, gym renovations, a pavilion and sports fields.
The county commission voted earlier this month to name the complex auditorium after former commission Chairman John McIver. McIver is credited for supporting the complex renovation from its inception to its completion.
McIver said he served on the commission for 13 years, and pushed to place the community-complex renovation on a SPLOST referendum. He said he and other administrators wanted to improve the facility’s quality without placing a heavy burden on property-tax payers.
“We were fortunate that at the same time the board of education was trying to divest (itself) of the property, we were able to swap some land over on Airport Road, where the academy is now located — about 35 acres,” McIver said. “So we just swapped sites of equal value.”
He said the site always was intended as a multi-use facility. Now the complex will house satellite offices, such as for the tax commissioner, and other organizations, like Keep Liberty Beautiful.
“Now it (satellite tag office) won’t be open every day,” District 1 Commissioner Marion Stevens said. “But it will help the citizens not to have to go all the way into Hinesville.”
“The plan we had for the site was sort of elaborate … everything you try to do, there’s always a funding issue,” McIver said.
Stevens said he supported McIver in his efforts to see the complex renovation through, though Stevens said he pushed for a new swimming pool while McIver lobbied for an expanded library.
“I lived up to my promise,” Stevens said. “Having one (public) pool in Liberty County is just not sufficient.”
Midway Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington said she already has visited the new branch library at the complex.
“I was there for the (complex) groundbreaking, and I will be there for the dedication,” Washington said last week. She said most Midway residents she has spoken to tell her they are excited about the new complex, especially parents whose children can take advantage of recreation-department activities.
“It means we don’t have to drive to Hinesville for all of the (county) services we might need or for the recreation opportunities for the children,” she said.
The mayor said Midway helped ensure the county had water and sewer connections for the renovated facility.
“Whatever else was asked of us, we did it,” Washington said. “I think it’s wonderful the citizens will have another facility that’s available for rental, also.”
Hinesville Mayor Pro Tem and Liberty County High School Alumni Association President Charles Frasier said he is happy the complex will include space to display the old school’s memorabilia.
“We do appreciate that,” Frasier said. “We simply want to preserve the memories of LCHS.”
McIver, Stevens, Washington and Frasier, along with State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, and former Midway mayor and retired pastor J.C. Shipman, are alumni of the old Liberty County High School.
The old LCHS
Stevens graduated from the old LCHS in 1968. He said his teachers were old-fashioned and “whipped your tail” if you, as a student, got out of line. Then one had to expect the same from their parents after they got home, he said.
“They can’t do that today,” Stevens said.
“I remember singing in the choir, playing basketball, running track and working in the library,” Washington said. She graduated in 1962.
Shipman graduated from the old LCHS in 1957.
“I can’t remember one teacher that I didn’t love,” he said. “They were all great teachers. They taught us not only what was in the books, but how to live, how to treat each other.”
Shipman said he remembers singing at his older brother’s graduation, which was “held outside under the great oaks.” He was allowed to sing, he said, even though he was only in the eighth grade at the time. Shipman’s late brother, W.C. Shipman II, wrote the school’s song.
Frasier graduated in 1964, when the Civil Rights Voting Act passed.
“I can remember leaving the school and I was not 18 years of age, but we went down to support those who were … down at the courthouse,” he said. “Getting registered to vote was very important to all of us.”
The old high school’s teachers and principals were dedicated educators, according to Frasier.
He said old LCHS Principal Samuel Smith was a great role model, especially for young men.
“He didn’t mind taking a little time with you, but if he caught you skipping class, you had a bad day,” the mayor pro-tem said.
Shipman also remembers Smith and E.B. Cooper, another former principal at the old LCHS.
“As a matter of fact, I worked for both of them,” he said.
Shipman said he was drove Smith’s car and ran errands.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said.
Williams graduated in 1965. He was a quarterback and captain of the football team.
“In 1973, the first integrated class graduated from Bradwell Institute,” he said. “Integration came as a result of a suit filed in federal court.”
Williams said there were “all kinds of excuses” before Liberty County public schools were fully integrated in 1972.
The school board attempted to equalize its segregated schools in 1956 by building “a beautiful gym” for the old high school, and then built the school’s first cafeteria in 1957, Williams said.
The state representative said every history class should include local history, such as how their community’s schools were integrated. Today’s students don’t understand previous generations’ long, hard struggle toward “racial togetherness,” he said.
“It didn’t just happen; it came with a lot of hurt feelings,” Williams said. “And students need to know this.”