Historic Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute contemplates National Park Service funding

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The Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute (PNII) anticipates National Park Service funding to preserve and protect the Jefferson Davis County landmark. Located in Prentiss, Mississippi, it was founded by Jonas and Bertha Johnson in 1907. 

Mr. Johnson was an alumnus of Alcorn A&M (Alcorn State University) while Mrs. Johnson was a disciple of Booker T. Washington, graduating from Tuskegee Institute (Tuskegee University).

The Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute applied for National Park Service grant funding in October 2023, along with public and private donations plans to renovate the “1907 House” on the campus of the historic institute.  The goal of the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights grant funding is to preserve and protect sites associated with the struggle for equality from the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The grant funding for preservation  projects ranges from $75,000 to $750,000. The Prentiss Institute’s plans for preservation include foundation and flooring repairs, new siding, windows, interior and exterior paint, HVAC installation, upgraded plumbing, and handicap accessibility. The National Park Service’s anticipated award date is set for March 2024 and is expected to fund between 40 and 70 projects. 

The institute has served as one of the oldest African American educational hubs via the Rosenwald School and has a 500-acre campus. The “1907 House” was built in the 1820s. Prentiss Institute’s request for funding centers on renovating and preserving the original 1907 House, the epicenter of the venerable institute’s existence, which was originally built in the 1820s by enslaved labor on the Tobias Magee plantation. 

Advertisement for the Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute. J.E. Johnson, Principal and Founder, and Bertha Johnson, Co-founder, are pictured. (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Archives and Records Services Division [PI ED 1982.00 Box 12 R72 B4 52 Folder 2 #1])

The campus also served as a haven for the Civil Rights Movement, accommodating then NAACP Field Secretary Medgar Evers in his quest to provide voter registration and training in Jefferson Davis County. The institute also produced activists of their own, such as Thomas Armstrong, an original 1961 Mississippi Freedom Rider. The institute served as an epicenter of vocational education until 1989 but has continued to serve as a hub for community social gatherings and alumni activities. Originally, Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute offered courses in Agriculture, Trades, Home Science, Music, and Bible Studies to prepare high school students, junior college students, and teacher training especially to prepare teachers to serve rural Mississippi.

Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute board members include James Jenkins, Alumni President (PI Board); James Armstrong, Vice Chair (PI Board); Jameson Jenkins (Partnership); Bettye Jenkins (Alumni); Dr. Arthur Cribbs (Partnership); Bobby Rushing, Chair (PI Board); Laurinda Brown-Johnson (PI Board); Dr. Subrina Mason (PI Board); Monique Hester (PI Board); Sonny Hooker (Supporter); Dedra Donaldson (Partnership); and Derrick Johnson (PI).

Public and private donations are being accepted continually and can be mailed to P.O. Box 1107, Prentiss Board of Trustees, Prentiss, MS 39474. Checks or money orders should be made out to Prentiss Institute Board of Trustees. 

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Historic Prentiss Normal and Industrial Institute contemplates National Park Service funding

By Brinda Fuller Willis
December 18, 2023