72 A BICENTENNIAL HISTORY OF MISSISSIPPI With segregation, African American students had to attend separate schools from their white counterparts. Later in the early 1950s, a new African American school, George Washington Carver High, replaced the east-side school. It was on the west side of Picayune and provided schooling for students during the segregation years, with its last African American class graduating in 1970. The students who attended the school, whose nickname was the Pirates, still hold class reunions. Race relations in Pearl River County have had some dark moments, the most notorious being the lynching of Mack Charles Parker in 1959. Parker, an African American man from Poplarville, was accused of raping a pregnant white woman in February of that year. He was incarcerated in the Pearl River County Jail, awaiting trial on April 27, when a lynch mob dragged him out of the jail on the night of April 24, allegedly with the help of the jailer. On May 4, a passerby found Parker’s body in the Pearl River near Bogalusa, Louisiana. Even after the United States Justice Department pursued criminal indictments against eight suspects at the time, the person or persons who perpetrated the crime were never brought to justice. Race relations in the county today are harmonious and have been for some time, a far cry from the Parker case nearly sixty years ago. Colleges on the Coast In the early years of the twentieth century, with its increased land size and growing population, Pearl River County embarked on visionary pursuits in education. On a ninety-acre tract of land donated by the city of Poplarville, the newly constructed Pearl River County Agricultural High School (PRCAHS) opened with fanfare. On September 8, 1909, forty-two high school students, male and female, began classes, taking advantage of the Agricultural High School law passed in 1908 by the Mississippi legislature. Poplarville also donated $2,245 to the building fund, along with the land. Leading the charge was Theodore Gilmore Bilbo (1877–1947), a native son of Pearl River County and elected trustee of the new high school. In 1911, the Rockefeller Foundation funded a program called the Model County School Plan. John D. Rockefeller had established the General Education Board in 1903 to aid educational efforts “without distinction of race, sex, or creed” across the United States. This was a national grant competition funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to recognize star efforts in education and provide additional funding for building and endowment growth. Nine counties in Mississippi competed for the award that year, and Pearl River County won. With the Model County School grant monies, Pearl River County Agricultural High School BLESSING OF THE FLEET The Blessing of the Fleet marks the start of shrimp fishing season. The ceremony was created because of the Catholic faith of the Eastern European and Vietnamese immigrants. The Pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church and the Bishop of the Biloxi Diocese bless each boat and pray for a safe and successful fishing season. The first Blessing of the Fleet in Biloxi occurred in 1929. Sunday Mass took place on the beach and the parish priest blessed each boat. Now, the ceremony is much larger and more efficient. A procession is formed in the Mississippi Sound and the boats come to the “Blessing Boat” where the priest and bishop are located. The Blessing of the Fleet also includes events, such as the Shrimp Festival and the Fais Do-Do. The Shrimp Festival is one day before the Blessing of the Fleet. At the festival, a Shrimp King and Shrimp Queen are crowned and shrimp dishes and dancing opportunities are available. PHOTOS BY GREG CAMPBELL SEAFOOD INDUSTRY Until the late 1800s, Biloxi was a quiet resort community. Everything changed when several businessmen opened plants for canning seafood. During this time, a railroad was created connecting the inland markets. Also, ice manufacturing and modern canning procedures were introduced. The growth of the seafood industry drew thousands of immigrants to the area. At first, the immigrants worked in canning plants. Eventually, they bought their own boats and started catching shrimp and oysters themselves. History was repeated when Vietnamese immigrants came to Biloxi during the 1980s. They took jobs at seafood plants when they first moved to Biloxi. Now, many of them own their own boats and are fishermen.