The Associated Press

WEDOWEE, Ala. Students sat at donated desks in trailers as fall classes began Wednesday at a high school burned by arsonists during months of racial turmoil.

Black and white teens smiled and laughed as they walked together on gravel paths among the 10 mobile classrooms set up at Randolph County High School.

Desks, books and televisions were donated by schools and companies to make up for the damage done by the fire Aug. 6.

"I think most people are trying to move on," said senior Jody Foster, who is white, with a tug of his baseball cap. "It was cool going to school in trailers."

A black classmate, 16-year-old Nikki O'Neal, agreed as students left school following an abbreviated, three-hour schedule. "We're just trying to get past what's happened."

A normal class schedule was to begin Thursday.

The fire gutted the 57-year-old school just hours before blacks planned a march in this small east Alabama town to seek the ouster of the school's white principal, Hulond Humphries.

Racial tension flared in March, when Humphries threatened to cancel the prom if interracial couples planned to attend. A mixed-race student accused Humphries of saying her parents made a "mistake" by having her, but he denied the remark. Humphries rescinded the prom edict and the dance was held.

Black parents boycotted the school and sent youngsters to "Freedom Schools," like those set up during the civil rights struggle in 1964.

The school board refused calls from black ministers to oust Humphries, leading to demonstrations. The Justice Department filed papers seeking his removal, but the complaint became moot when the school board voted just days after the blaze to place Humphries in an administrative job in the system's central office.

The school has 450 students on its rolls but first-day attendance wasn't immediately available.

The new principal, Wayne Wortham, began the day by telling students during an assembly "that the old school's gone and we've got to make the best of the trailers."

Wortham is white and has a new black assistant.

County school Superintendent Dale McKay said plans are underway for the first football game on Sept. 2 in Humphries Stadium, named for the former principal.

The burned-out school was razed by bulldozers. A front-end loader and a huge bale of hay sat on the empty lot just yards from the trailers.

Teague said it will be at least two years before a new school can be built. No decision has been made on whether students will remain in the trailers or move to other, temporary quarters.

"But the point to be made now is that this community is pulling together," said state school superintendent Wayne Teague, who was on hand to observe. "It's amazing what you can put together when you have to."

A key figure in the protests, Rev. Emmett Johnson, said he was "comfortable" with the high school, where his two sons are currently enrolled.

"I think the whole staff here is capable, but I'd like to see the whole (school) board impeached," he said. Read Next Article