Southern Pines, NC

The West Southern Pines Rosenwald School: Cornerstone of the Community

Claudia Stack

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The Vass Rosenwald School (c.1924) was one of 16 Rosenwald schools built by African American communities in Moore County, NCNorth Carolina State Archives, Department of Public Instruction

In December, 2021 the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust won a two year battle to buy back the historic West Southern Pines school property. The property was originally the site of a Rosenwald school constructed on four acres donated by the African American community. The campus was later expanded to 17 acres, and the Rosenwald building was replaced. However, the cultural significance of the property remained, as did the pride community members had in their school.

When the West Southern Pines Rosenwald School was constructed in 1925, the surrounding African American community donated cash to obtain a grant from the Rosenwald Fund, as was typical with Rosenwald schools. This money, along with the donated land, were given to Moore County Schools over and above the taxes paid by the community. Some history is in order if we are to understand the community’s resilience, as well as their long journey to reclaiming the school.

During the Reconstruction era, North Carolina’s African American citizens made gains in self-governance, land ownership, and established many churches and fraternal orders (Crow, Escott & Hatley, p.98). They also influenced the development of education in North Carolina by supporting universal public education. Prior to that, as noted by Thusen, in 1860 “only half of North Carolina’s white school aged youth attended publicly supported common schools, but the state did not require local districts to provide any such facilities.” (Thusesen, p.5).

Newly emancipated African American legislators fought to expand democracy and education in North Carolina. During the 1868 state constitutional convention there were 13 African Americans out of 120 delegates. In what was arguably the most important change to the state constitution before North Carolina effectively disenfranchised African American citizens in 1900, African American delegate Abraham Galloway led the charge to enshrine universal public education in the state constitution. Further, he “repeatedly went out of his way to say that he advocated for the workingman and the oppressed, whatever their color.” (Cecelski, p.199).

It was in this context of striving for self-determination, and while being disenfranchised, that the town of West Southern Pines was chartered and led by African Americans beginning in 1923. As noted by the UNC Southern Oral History Project, “West Southern Pines was one of the first incorporated African American towns in North Carolina. From 1923 to 1931, the town operated with its own mayor, city council, and municipal services.”

In August, 1921 a letter from a young resident of West Southern Pines was published in The Moore County News. Stephen J. Sanders wrote to the paper to say he was glad they took note of progress in West Southern Pines, although he preferred that the paper not use the moniker “Jimtown.” The letter reflects the writer’s guarded optimism: He highlights his pride in building a home and in the town’s progress, but he hastens to add that he knows his community cannot keep up with European Americans. “Jimtown is making wonderful progress this year. We can’t keep up with you white people with money, but our outlook is fine. We know that we can’t go over the top, but we are going to the top.”

The early 1920s were also the height of the Rosenwald school building in North Carolina. Rosenwald schools were built through matching grants, and African American communities in NC built 813 Rosenwald schools, more than any other state (Fisk Rosenwald School Archive). These communities had to raise funds over and above and taxes they paid in order to obtain schools for their children, which constituted double taxation (Anderson, p. 156). Moore County’s African American communities raised funds, and often donated land, materials and labor in addition, to build 16 Rosenwald schools and one teacher’s home (Fisk Rosenwald School Archive).

The African American cash contribution for Moore County’s 16 schools and one teacherage (teachers' boarding house) was $21,416. (Fisk Rosenwald School Archive) Using 1925 as a median year of construction, the current value of the African American cash contribution to the construction of Moore County’s Rosenwald Schools is approximately $320,116. These cash donations were made over and above the taxes they paid, and does not include donated land, materials or labor.

The West Southern Pines Rosenwald school was completed in 1925 on four acres that were purchased by African American families and conveyed to Moore County schools. The land was conveyed in 1924 by community members Emma and William Junge and meant to benefit African American education in perpetuity, as stated in the deed dated May 23, 1924:

Grantors William F. Junge and Emma C. Junge, his wife; Grantee: Moore County Board of Education Date May 23, 1924… Now therefore this deed is given that said land may be conveyed and said conveyance placed of record as intended as between the grantors and grantee and for no other purpose whatsoever except that the said land or all profits in anywise ever arising therefrom in any manner shall be ever devoted to the use of negro education in and about the Town of Southern Pines and West Southern Pines in recognition of the fact that the money for the purchase of said land was raised by the negroes of said towns containing four acres, more or less.

This land was donated in addition to the taxes those citizens paid, and in addition to the monies they raised ($6,000, the equivalent of $90,338 today) to obtain a grant from the Rosenwald Fund. Their effort is a testament to the West Southern Pines community’s deep commitment to education.

The 1997 National Register Nomination Form for the Lincoln Park Rosenwald School in Moore County (AKA as the Addor Community Center) also states that “In Moore County Angus B. Cameron, the Superintendent of Schools, was very supportive in replacing most of the black schools with Rosenwald schools.” This probably reflected some progressivism, combined with practicality on the part of the Superintendent: The truth is that the Rosenwald school program offered tremendous value to southern school districts.

Moore County, like most across the state, issued school bonds (public debt) in the early 1920s to build consolidated brick schools for European American students, and to provide transportation for those students. No comparable provision was made for the building of African American schools. Threads of history tie the evolution of the West Southern Pines School to Moore County history, starting with the original donated four acres that are the core of the property, to the 1950s equalization school, and the expanded uses of the campus that include a community garden.

Even in areas where expense was not a great consideration, Moore County’s African American educators and students were overlooked by their school board. Consider this announcement made at the a Moore County School Board Meeting in March, 1921, as reported in the 3/18/1921 issue of The Pilot: “All white teachers and friends of the children of the County are requested to meet in the Auditorium of the Carthage Graded School on Saturday, April 2, at 10 AM...We expect to have some strong speakers present.” In other words, African American educators were not invited to attend the meeting, which was the only professional development planned for the spring.

In spite of being under-resourced compared to schools that Moore County provided for European American students, the culture of the West Southern Pines school and other historic African American schools was one of high expectations. Many alumni would go on to attend one of the eleven Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and become professionals who continue to have a positive influence on our state.

The West Southern Pines school and surrounding community contributed to the war effort during WW II. The June 4, 1943 edition of The Pilot reported that Negro soldiers would be temporarily lodged in the home economics building of the “colored school in West Southern Pines” pending the construction of a USO building for Negro soldiers.

The West Southern Pines school also cultivated an ethic of service, as reflected in the common refrain “enter to learn, go forth to serve.” Although the original West Southern Pines Rosenwald school building was replaced by an “equalization” school (a brick building built in the 1950s in an effort to forestall desegregation), the school culture continued in the tradition of high expectations and community involvement that had prevailed in the Rosenwald school. In this context, we can see that West Southern Pines School is actually part of a much larger, important cultural movement that continues to influence NC today.

The NC state legislature revoked the town charter of West Southern Pines in 1931, acting at the request of European American town commissioners from Southern Pines. Later, zoning changes effectively prevented new African American businesses from opening. A 2018 article in The Pilot states that:

Incorporated in 1923, West Southern Pines was known not only for its corner stores. The town also had its own mayor and town council, then later a police force, jail, school, hospital, bank, credit union, doctor, dentist, tradesmen and recreation facilities....However, according to the minutes of the Southern Pines Board of Town Commissioners, on Feb. 10, 1931, members proposed revocation of the charter...West Southern Pines residents protested to no avail. The state granted the request for revocation and annexation. A second setback occurred in the 1970s when previously non-zoned West Southern Pines was zoned residential. ..As grandfathered businesses closed — the barbershops, beauty salons and gas stations that had been gathering places for the nearly 2,000 residents — new ones could not open.

After West Southern Pines residents lost their town charter, they had little reason to believe that the county government was genuinely concerned about conditions in their school. In February, 1949, The Pilot reported that a study of Moore County schools in general revealed numerous maintenance issues. More particularly, the report noted the conditions of the schools in Southern Pines:

Southern Pines’ share in this report are three schools: We all know the picture as to the two white schools: the elementary building is new and has been termed the best in the state; the high school building will almost surely have its main feature, the auditorium, replaced in the near future; though that will not solve that whole problem by a long shot. The third school listed in the report is the Negro school in West Southern Pines. Here conditions, except for cleanliness, are as bad as those listed in many of the other reports: cracked walls, rotten floors, ceilings cracked and unsafe and hazardous; drainage from an adjacent hog pen flows near the kitchen and across the playground.

Longtime West Southern Pines resident and community leader Felton Capel was interviewed in 1982 as part of the Southern Oral HIstory Program at UNC Chapel Hill for a special research project on West Southern Pines. He explained that the culture of civic concern did not end with the revocation of the West Southern Pines town charter, but found a new expression in a Civic Club organized in 1943:

I think the community realized that the [West Southern Pines town charter] had been lifted. They felt that it would be through unity that any efforts would succeed, otherwise it would be fruitless unless you speak as a united front for the community. So the Civic Club was chartered, organized and set up into four separate departments. First, was education, municipal government, and the other departments were forestry and internal improvements. In other departments there was working with the youth program. In the citizen involvement we tried to engage ourselves in everything that represented good government… we were one of the first municipalities in the South to elect a black to the school board, to get one appointed.

The goals of the Southern Pines Land & Housing Trust are a continuation of the culture of self-determination that led citizens to charter the original town of West Southern Pines. As stated on their website, the Southern Pines Land & Housing Trust plans to revitalize West Southern Pines through the acquisition of their heritage school property:

Southern Pines Land & Housing Trust is achieving more with its community-based initiatives than ever before. The community directed plans for Southern Pines Primary School include a World-class Black Heritage Cultural Destination, educational and entrepreneurial opportunities, great ethnic food and community access for meetings and gatherings, exercise and enjoyment of the open space. Community support includes local civic organizations as well as corporate organizations for the acquisition of the school.

Sources

Anderson, James D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.

Capel, Felton Interview by Nancy Mason, 5 May 1982, R-0747, in the Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cecelski, David S. The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway and the Slaves' Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Print.

Crow, Jeffrey J., Paul D. Escott, and Flora J. Hatley Wadelington. A History of African Americans in North Carolina. Revised. Raleigh: N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, Office of Archives and History, 2002. Print.

Thuesen, Sarah Caroline. Greater than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965. The University of North Carolina Press, 2013.

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I am an educator and filmmaker. My documentary films on historic African American schools have screened at film festivals, colleges, libraries, and other venues. In Fall, 2017 I completed SHARECROP and SHARECROP: DELTA COTTON, documentaries that showcase oral history of the South’s “forgotten farmers.” These films have screened at festivals in major cities including London, Atlanta, Detroit.

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