WBHM recently reported on Birmingham’s surplus schools and community frustrations around the vacant buildings. Powell School is among them. Powell was Birmingham’s first and oldest public school, built in 1888. Listeners wanted to hear more about the school’s history, so reporter Mary Scott Hodgin has this profile of Eva Hardy Jones, one of the school’s most famous leaders.
Eva Hardy Jones became principal of Powell School in 1976. Around this time, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, but it and its students were in need.
Many of Powell’s students lived in the nearby Metropolitan Gardens, a massive housing project with 910 units (demolished in 2002 and replaced by the Park Place apartments). When Jones became principal, the school lacked a gymnasium and a library. The building was old, with only 12 classrooms, and students were occasionally moved to the nearby Phillips High School because of structural issues.
Jones brought hope to Powell. During her time at the school, she filled the halls with inspirational quotes and transformed the walls into painted bookshelves. Community members say she went out of her way to guarantee that all kids received an education, even offering to personally transport students to and from school. In the 1980s, Jones persuaded the school board to purchase the adjacent Trailways Bus Station. Jones converted this space into a gymnasium for students, and it was eventually dedicated as the Eva Hardy Jones Annex.
“One of the remarkable things is, you can still see the influence of principal Eva Hardy Jones in the murals and bulletin boards,” says Michael Calvert with the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation. “She didn’t have a library, but she painted this room as if there were shelves with books. And the bulletin board still has, ‘There’s magic in teamwork, working together towards a common vision.’ She was a great principal.”