First Black Named As Superintendent For Indianola Schools
May. 02, 1986
INDIANOLA, Miss. (AP) _ The first black chief of Indianola's mostly black school system says his appointment should ''pull the community back together'' after five weeks of protests sparked by the appointment of a white man.
The Indianola School Board voted 5-0 Thursday to appoint Robert Merritt superintendent, a day after W.A. Grissom resigned, his three-year contract for the job bought out by white businessmen for $90,000, officials said.
Grissom had been appointed March 25 on a 3-2 vote of the board, which split along racial lines.
''I want to pull the community back together,'' Merritt, 58, said to a standing ovation after his appointment was announced. ''I think we can do it.''
His appointment ends five weeks of protests by blacks who boycotted and picketed white-owned businesses and twice forced school closings when more than 80 percent of the 3,000 students stayed out. The school district, which has 93 percent black enrollment, was closed for a total of five days.
''This whole mission was not just for Dr. Merritt,'' protest leader Willie Spurlock told about 300 supporters Thursday night at a community center. ''It was for us - for our children's children.''
Spurlock called the appointment of a black ''a victory for Indianola,'' and said citizens should end the boycott and protests.
Merritt's appointment was necessary to maintain community support for the board, said member David Jackson. ''It's time we get back and begin looking out for the welfare of the children in the district, educationally,'' he said.
Merritt, a principal in this Delta farm town for 16 years, promised supporters at the rally Thursday night to pursue pursue a quality education for the schools when he takes over the $45,000-a-year job July 1.
''I wouldn't have made it without your support. As a matter of fact, you have been such a bright light that the darkness couldn't put it out,'' he said.
Grissom, 53, an assistant superintendent of schools in Benoit, no longer felt he had the support of the three white board members and was concerned because one is up for re-election, said his attorney, Joe Buchanan.
Grissom got $30,000 Wednesday and will get $30,000 each of the next two years, Buchanan said.
''I think I need to think and analyze out this thing - just give me several days,'' Grissom said Thursday, declining further comment.
The businessmen sought the buyout because they felt the entire community needed to help find a solution, said their attorney, Tommy McWilliams.
A lawsuit filed by Merritt charging the school board with racism will be withdrawn, said his attorney, Victor McTeer.