The Willard Outreach Organization, Inc. will screen the documentary film CF Pope: Where Champions were Grown at 6 pm on Friday, March 10, 2023 at 9955 Hwy. 11, Willard, NC 28478. This event is free and open to the public, although donations will be collected for a scholarship that honors Geraldine Gore Woodard and Nellie Burgess Fields. Refreshments will be served.
The film CF Pope: Where Champions were Grown (2022) was directed by Richard T. Newkirk, Ed.D. and Claudia Stack, Ed. M. The Pender Education Partnership, the CF Pope Alumni Association, and NC Humanities were the Executive Producers. Michael Raab produced the film, and Patrick Ogelvie did the videography and editing.
Founded in 1891 by the Middle District Missionary Baptist Association, the CF Pope School in Burgaw, NC began as a school for ministers before its mission expanded to general education. Its high school was accredited in 1924, becoming one of only two high schools for African Americans in Pender County during the segregation era. In the documentary, alumni share stories about their time at the school, the ways in which their families sacrificed to support their education, and the teachers who mentored them.
Fittingly, Willard Outreach Organization is housed in a former school, the 1950s era Willard Elementary. It is a brick “equalization” school” that was built when Pender County Schools consolidated dozens of small wooden African American schools in the county that had been built from the 1910s to the 1930s. Like many school boards across the South, Pender County responded to the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision not by desegregating, but by trying to demonstrate that the county was meeting the “separate but equal” standard of the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson decision.
The 1920s era one-room Watha School also sits on the Willard Outreach property. This small wooden building was moved to the site to serve as the cafeteria for Willard Elementary. The Watha School was built on a scaled down version of the Rosenwald Fund’s one-teacher (north or south facing) Nashville plan, but may not have received Rosenwald funding. It was common for southern school districts to use the plans provided by the Rosenwald Fund for African American schools, even without Rosenwald Funding for a particular building.
Pender County built 18 Rosenwald funded buildings on 15 school campuses. The author gratefully acknowledges Claudia Brown and the rest of the staff at the NC State Historic Preservation Office. Brown created the NC Rosenwald School Survey, and NCSHPO assists those who are researching our state’s 813 Rosenwald School buildings. Pender County constructed several school buildings on a modified (smaller) version of the iconic one-room plan. Under the leadership of Sam Woodard, members of the Old Skool Car Club restored the Watha School building as an education and meeting space.
Pender County Schools did not desegregate fully until 1969, and when it did so administrators of the school system made decisions that disregarded the history of the schools that Pender County’s African American communities had helped to build. For example, Margaret Gill related this story to the author in a telephone interview: Pender County Training School (PCTS, which became South Pender High School shortly before desegregation) was abruptly condemned and closed in 1968. Gill’s parents looked out their window that fall, and saw school officials dumping records and trophies in the trash.
PCTS was founded in 1917 when local families raised funds to obtain the school’s first building, a four-classroom Rosenwald School. For decades, Pender County Training School and the CF Pope School were the only public high schools available to Pender’s African American students, while the county maintained five high schools for an approximately equal number of European American students.
Likewise, upon desegregation, CF Pope was renamed Burgaw Elementary, erasing the school’s commemoration of an educator who worked tirelessly to have the school accredited and to provide opportunities to Pender’s African American students. The CF Pope School regained its historic name in 2020, when the CF Pope Alumni Association, whose members volunteer often at the school, requested that the name be restored.
Dr. Richard T. Newkirk, co-director of the film, alumnus of CF Pope, and Vice President of the CF Pope Alumni Association says the story of the CF Pope School in the film “is told from the perspective of persons who understood that education was a privilege, not a right. Consequently, they focused on what was available, and strove to make their best better in spite of the varied challenges. That’s what champions do.”
This film was produced under the Pender Education Partnership (PEP), which provided logistical support for the documentary project. A grant from North Carolina Humanities made the film possible. The film was filmed and edited by Patrick Olgelvie and Mike Raab of Flux AV.
Please come out to the Willard Outreach Organization on Friday, March 10, 2023 at 6pm at 9955 Hwy. 11, Willard, NC 28478 to learn about the historic CF Pope school. The film screening will be followed by a discussion with the directors.