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West Plains couple spearheads effort to turn former Black school into a cultural center

Lincoln School in West Plains, which once educated Black students in the community
Crockett Oak
Lincoln School in West Plains, which once educated Black students in the community

The two intend to finish the project by the beginning of next year.

The one-room Lincoln School, which was built in 1920, served the educational needs of the West Plains Black community until Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation in schools. Since then, the building has been used for a few things — AA meetings and as a VFW hall, for example — but in July, the City of West Plains sold it to Crockett and Tonya Oaks, who plan to give the building some much-needed attention.

“It’s going to have to have a new roof. It currently has some water damage in the basement and so we’re going to have to shore that up to ensure that, you know, we don’t have any further damage,” says Tonya Oaks.

Contractors have started work on the space, and the Oaks are hoping for a completed restoration by January with a Black history month acknowledgement in February. After that, they intend to use the space as a community gathering place, hosting artists, observing other cultural months, producing a podcast and maybe even doing some cooking.

Crockett Oaks III, whose father attended the school, has emotional stock in the space.

“Because I am African American it means a lot to me to see an institution of division and separation being now purposed – repurposed – for something that’s a joining of our community, that brings us together," he said.

The Oaks have been active citizens of West Plains since moving back into town in 2021. Last year, the two led the installation of three murals in town by Nigerian Artist Dr. Bolaji Ogunwo who Crockett met while living abroad as an employee of Shell Oil. Earlier this year, they worked to secure grant funding to have unmarked graves at the Sadie Brown Cemetery identified and marked with new headstones. As Crockett said, "we believe in staying busy."

The Lincoln School Project is accepting donations. More information at

**This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Crockett and Tonya's last name.