A Project for Students and Citizens

Living Democracy in Elba: Week Six

In Elba on June 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Sierra Sacred Place 3Citizens save school remnant as a sacred space

By Sierra Lehnhoff

Over the course of Living Democracy 2013, we have focused on special places.  We’ve talked about places that are an asset to the community, written pieces on places where people gather, and shared about special areas in communities scattered all over the state of Alabama. Places have a multitude of meanings to individuals, but some of those are considered more ‘sacred’ than others. By sacred it is meant that the place has an important, symbolic meaning to a large portion of those who inhabit or once inhabited the area it. These places can be anywhere from a government building or a store or even a simple gas station. It is not the place itself, but the meaning and the memories behind a location. These meanings and memories hold value to the citizens and boost the importance of a place. Often old historic buildings have been saved due to their value to the citizens of a community.

Sierra Sacred Place 2

View of Tiger Town Park through door windows. (Photo by Sierra Lehnhoff)

To citizens in Elba, the old high school is one sacred place. Although most of the school was destroyed by a flood, the white and cream front of the school still stands tall and proud.  The front of the building and the front steps, which the school’s alumni visit during reunions, were saved. Alumni can gather in front of the three double doors on the steps below the big, black Elba High School letters at the top. The doors of the past open up to the future here.  By looking through one of the windows of the three double doors, visitors can see the Tiger Town Park with a recently built playground. The playground wall facing the school is adorned with red, green, and blue painted handprints and signatures of Elba’s youth. Laurie Chapman, a general coordinator on the project group for the Tiger Town Park construction, said, “It (the school) was slated to be demolished around the same time we were in the planning stages of the playground project.” But then an idea was born.  It was decided that saving an important part of the old Elba High School would symbolize hope in the face of tragedy created by floods.

Local citizens say that the old Elba High School was an important part of the community. Mart Gray, pastor of Covenant Community Church, describes the school as “the central hub of community life for generations.” The front steps, he adds, were a popular teenage hangout in the past. Today, those who attended the school can cherish their memories of high school days when they see the building’s front entrance while they make new memories by watching their children play at Tiger Town Park.

The efforts to save the front of Elba High School show how the area is important and symbolic to the entire community. After the school was damaged, the Sierra Sacred Place pic 1community banded together and made something good happen. Chapman and the committee behind the playground development were able to keep some of Elba’s history as well as bring a new asset to the area. These two things combined into one make for a sacred place.  The citizens honored the past by preserving an important piece of the building that was central to the town’s history. They salvaged what they could to tell a story of a town that wasn’t going to give up. The citizens can look through the doors of the past and see Elba’s future. They can see hope as they reminisce about the days they cherish. This is a sacred place to those who went to the school, and the park will create special memories for the children who play on it now and in the future.


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