Picayune Colored Gymnasium featured

Published 4:03 pm Thursday, May 31, 2007

Walt Grayson, a Greenville native who is best known as host of Mississippi ETV’s “Mississippi Road” program, was in Picayune Wednesday to spotlight the Picayune Colored Gymnasium for his weekly “Look Around Mississippi” program.

Grayson was contacted about the gymnasium by Picayune native James “Lap” Baker, a self-employed grant writer and planner who lives and works in Jackson, after the building was listed as one of the 10 Most Endangered Historical Places in Mississippi for 2007.

Grayson interviewed Baker and the building’s owner, Carole Jackson Fortenberry, as well as Robert Pickett and Alfrederick Robinson.

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Fortenberry is a retired New Orleans schoolteacher who inherited the building from her father, Lemuel Jackson. Jackson purchased the building in the 1960’s for use as a nightclub.

Pickett’s father, George Pickett, built the gymnasium for recreational purposes, Robert Pickett said, and Robert Pickett would like to see it restored for the same use.

“It would be vital to the community for these young people in the community because they really don’t have anywhere to go to exploit their talents,” Robert Pickett told Grayson.

Robinson lived across the street from the gymnasium while he was growing up. Robinson’s father, Curtis Robinson, worked with George Pickett to sponsor entertainment at the gymnasium such as dances and gospel sings.

“We had pool tables, badminton — anything a kid needed athletic-wise that would keep them off the street,” Alfrederic Robinson said.

Baker is currently working with Fortenberry to obtain funding to restore the building. Baker and Fortenberry hope that Grayson’s coverage of the building will get the attention of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

MDAH is currently in the process of awarding grant money which is part of the $26 million federal Hurricane Relief Grant Program for Historic Preservation. Baker and Fortenberry have applied for grant money for the gymnasium.

“We are hoping the Mississippi Department of Archives and History sees fit to fund this place,” Baker said.

“Look Around Mississippi” airs on WLBT Channel Three out of Jackson, WDAM Channel Seven out of Hattiesburg, and WLOX Channel 13 out of Biloxi.

The Picayune Colored Gymnasium segment will air this Friday at 5 p.m. and again at 10 p.m., Grayson said. Grayson was unsure when the segment would air on WDAM and WLOX.

Programming personnel for WDAM said the regularly scheduled times for “Look Around Mississippi” are Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and again on Wednesdays at 6 a.m.

Program personnel for WLOX said “Look Around Mississippi” is shown on that station on Sundays at 6 a.m.