Memories may be beautiful, and yet...
The African American community of Granville County has beautiful memories of the Black high schools ...
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The African American community of Granville County has beautiful memories of the Black high schools that enriched the lives of its children.
Mary Potter School
Mary Potter has a rich history. Its founder and first principal was Dr. George Clayton Shaw, a young Black minister who established the Timothy Darling Presbyterian Church in Oxford in 1888. One year later, he opened a school in the church.
On the very first day, about 29 pupils ranging in ages 5 to 45 enrolled at the school. Due to road conditions and lack of transportati on, students resided in the church and in the home of the principal until dormitories were built.
Mrs. Mary Potter of Schenectady, New York, who was special secretary of the Freedman’s Bureau in Albany Presbyterial and New York Synodical, was a strong supporter of Dr. Shaw and his efforts to establish the school. In 1892, the school was named “Mary Potter School” for Mrs. Potter, whose influence led the Presbyterial and the Synodical Societies to make significant contributions to the school’s support.
Under Dr. Shaw’s determined and capable leadership, the school grew. In 1929, it covered 20 acres and had five brick buildings, two cottages, a small store and a farm. Curriculum grew to meet the state’s advanced ideas of education. It included Bible, plane geometry, English literature, composition and essays, Latin and Greek.
Through Dr. Shaw’s untiring efforts, Mary Potter was placed on the state’s accredited list in 1922. In 1934, the school was placed on the accredited list of the Southern Association of Secondary Schools. Mary Potter became the only school in the county to earn this designation and became known throughout the state as a school of excellence.
Until 1936, Mary Potter was the only high school for Blacks in Granville County. Its first graduation was held in 1893, and it continued as a high school until 1970. In 1953, the school closed the boarding department.
In 1970, Mary Potter was no longer a high school. It became an integrated coeducational school containing grades five through eight with an enrollment of approximately 780 students and approximately 40 faculty members.
“Bunker Hill,” Carver Chem Cam, Commercial Co-Ed, NFA, H.S. Davis Ensemble, Mary Potter Gazette, the Grill — these terms and organizations are memorable. The Mary Potter we knew no longer exists, but many graduates and former students still remember that special feeling one gets from the words of the Alma Mater: “Though far away, we yet may roam and live. ... Sweet thoughts of you will always dwell in me.”
Creedmoor Colored / G.C. Hawley High School
Creedmoor Colored Elementary School had its beginning in the early ’20s. The school’s growth and development were somewhat slow; however, by 1933, it had developed into a three-teacher school.
In the fall of 1936, Grover Cleveland Hawley, a graduate of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, and a minister, was hired as principal. Due largely to the support, encouragement and cooperation of administrative officers of the county, parents, teachers, and friends, a high school was established bearing the name Creedmoor Colored High School. Previously, some parents paid room and board for their sons and daughters to attend Mary Potter Academy in Oxford.
The development of a high school brought great joy to the community, yet there were numerous obstacles to overcome: a lack of equipment, instructional supplies, library facilities and transportation.
By the spring of 1938, $480 had been contributed by parents, teachers, and friends toward the purchase of a school bus. The sum was matched by the county, and the first school bus transporting Negro students began to roll in Granville County. After bus transportation became available, the high school experienced rapid growth.
In 1946, it was the desire of the citizens of Creedmoor that the name of the high school be changed to G.C. Hawley High School in honor of the longtime principal.
The completion of a 100% state consolidation program eliminated smaller schools in Wilton, Creedmoor and Stem. In September 1952, G.C. Hawley High School opened its doors to 1,400 students, 44 teachers and its fleet of buses increased from one to 15.
G.C. Hawley Middle School emerged out of necessity as a result of unresolved human relations in Granville County. The Creedmoor Elementary School was destroyed by a devastating fire on Jan. 7, 1970. Four days after the fire, faculty, staff and G.C. Hawley High School welcomed the predominantly white students and faculty to the Hawley facility.
Grades three through eight were housed at Hawley School until 1975 when it became a middle school. High school students were transferred to the South Granville High School. This was an abrupt change from segregation to total integration, which proved to be a smooth transition.
Lottie Fleming Hall, president of the G.C. Hawley Alumni Association, shared this narrative:
“Our ancestors, many who could barely read or write, trusted the vision of G.C. Hawley. I cannot be sure, but I believe that the ‘Reverend’ of Hawley, the educator, and his spiritual beliefs were the catalyst for his drive and vision.
“The bond between Mr. Hawley and our ancestors was morally and spiritually powerful. It was a bond formed on trust and a desire for a better life for us.”
Joe Toler High School
Joe Toler High School, serving students in grades eight through 11, was erected in 1941 by teenage boys under the auspices of the National Youth Administration.
The construction was supervised by William E. Baptiste, principal, and B.D. Bunn, superintendent of Granville County Schools. The building, which included classrooms, an office, an auditorium with stage and a basement, was located on a 4-acre site 14 miles north of Oxford. The land was purchased from Joe Toler Sr. for $10.
During the school year 1950-51, the Granville County Board of Education saw a need for school improvement. The plan included eliminating all one-, two- and three-teacher schools in the Toler School District. During the planning period, efforts were made to purchase more land centrally located for a new school, but when all efforts failed, again Mr. Toler was approached for additional land.
Because of his interest in the youth of the community and his philanthropic spirit, he offered 15.5 acres for a reported price of $6,000. This land acquisition resulted in his having to move his home, convenience store, sawmill and other farm buildings.
The fall of 1952 brought about the consolidation of a site having two buildings with modern facilities serving approximately 900 students in grades one through 12 with 29 teachers. Within six years, there was a total of five building on the campus, which included a gymnatorium and an agricultural building. A cafeteria was constructed later.
From high school to union school to an elementary school and finally a pre-K to sixth grade school — in spite of numerous changes, Toler School set the stage for many youth whose dreams for a better way of life were realized.
After all, this was the gift and desire of the philanthropist Joe Toler Sr.
G.C. Shaw High School
The town of Stovall did not have a high school for its students until 1949. Prior to that time, its pupils were bused to Mary Potter Academy in Oxford.
G.C. Shaw High School opened its doors to students in the fall of 1949. In 1950, the Granville County Board of Education formally named the school in honor of Dr. George Clayton Shaw. Dr. Shaw was the prominent educator who founded Timothy Daring Presbyterian Church and Mary Potter Academy.
The North Carolina Department of Education granted Shaw High School accreditation in 1950.
A major drawback of the elementary school was that it had no restroom facilities. Outhouses or privies were used. The high school had restrooms but no cafeteria.
In spite of limited facilities, G.C. Shaw High School students excelled in many areas. Its glee club and chorus was recognized statewide for its award-winning performances.
With the onset of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and integration, the little high school in Stovall was required to close its doors in the spring of 1968. Nineteen years of cooperation, fellowship and good will came to an end.
...We must never forget
The legacy of Granville County’s Black high schools lives on. Former students, faculty, staff and the African American community have beautiful memories of the schools which were an integral part of Granville County.
All four high schools now have organized alumni associations. These organizations exist to preserve the history of the school, to foster fellowship and comradery among its members, to promote political awareness in the communities, to collaborate with existing schools and offer assistance where needed and strive to keep the spirit of each school ever alive.
All four of the high schools encouraged their students to strive for success — to never settle for “average.” As a result, the schools produced many young people who continued their education and became doctors, lawyers, teachers, business executives, college presidents — and the list goes on.
Bessye Lawrence McGhee was born in Oxford. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science in Library Science degrees from North Carolina College at Durham. McGhee has served as a teacher, librarian and media coordinator in Maine, California, Arizona, Libya and Granville County. Her first book, “Our Story: The African American Presence in Granville County” was shared with over 200 readers and friends at the Richard H. Thornton Library in Oxford in 2014.
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