SAN BENITO — For nearly 70 years, the old brick school has stood as a testament to one of the most painful periods in America’s history.
In 1948, Linda Brock’s grandmother Fannie Callandret donated the land on which the San Benito school district built the two-room school house named after her husband.
In 1952, the Joe Callandret School opened to give the area’s African-American children an education during segregation.
On the edge of the El Jardin barrio, few remember the old building’s past.
“It should have not been forgotten like that,” Brock, 68, a former nurse, said from her brick home from which she still gazes at the old school house.
Now, the school district is leasing the building to the San Benito Historical Society, which plans to turn it into a museum about the area’s era of segregation.
“This needs to be done,” Brock said. “There’s a lot that needs to be taught.”
Recently, Superintendent Nate Carman announced the project as Trianne Brock, Linda’s Brock’s granddaughter, stood during a small ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“It’s pretty exciting being here and being a part of it. It’s a bit overwhelming,” the pre-law student at Shriner University said after the ceremony. “It means a lot. I want the people of San Benito and the Valley to know more about the history of the Callandrets and what was going on in that era.”
As part of an agreement, the district is leasing the building to the Historical Society for $1 a year, Carman said at the edge of Doherty Street.
“Fannie Callandret’s gift was pivotal for many African-American students during segregation. It was their place to learn. It was their foundation for succeeding in the world,” he told a small crowd.
“Today, the San Benito Historical Society has great plans for the once two-room school house and we are proud to be partners in those plans,” he said. “To the descendants of Joe Callandret, thank you for embracing what I believe is the true substance of Fannie’s gift — a legacy of learning for all children.”
About two years ago, Carman asked the Historical Society’s members if they wanted to lease the building, which had served as the district’s alternative school — the Joe Callandret Positive Redirection Center — since 2000.
“It’s part of the history of San Benito,” Carman said after the ceremony. “Rather than abandoning it and leaving it unused, I think it’s important to preserve the history. This is our history, whether we like it or not.”
At the podium, Wayne Powell, the Historical Society’s president, said the group plans to revive the old school house.
“This is a mixed bag of history — some of it’s good, some of it’s bad,” Powell said. “This was the first step to make sure all children got an education. We’re going to try to build this into something real special for the Valley and especially for San Benito.”
Soon, the Historical Society plans to turn the old building into the Callandret Black History Museum, the first museum honoring African-American history south of Houston.
“It’s a big project,” Sandra Tumberlinson, the Historical Society’s co-founder, said before the ceremony.
To launch the renovation project, she’s contacting vendors such as construction companies to donate their services to help tell the story of segregation in the area.
“We will not only be telling the story of the Callandrets who came down here in the early 1900s but of the black history that brought them down here,” she said. “We’re very grateful to be given the opportunity to bring this information to the people of San Benito and the area because we know many people don’t know the history of segregation and that is was here in their hometown.”
The Historical Society, she said, plans to open the museum to commemorate February’s Black History Month.
“We will collect artifacts, conduct programs on African-American history and culture and interpret the original intent of the school,” the Historical Society posted on Facebook.
For decades, Linda Brock’s family has dreamed of honoring Joe and Fannie Callandret’s gift to the area.
“The family didn’t give up on it,” she said. “I’m just glad they’re finally doing something about it. I won’t let it go.”