The Town of Holly Springs announced today the designation of a historic marker to commemorate a school for black children that operated from the mid-1920’s until desegregation around 1970. The school was located in the area that now houses the Hunt Center, one of the town’s most used recreational facilities.
According to historic records, Holly Springs School was built on land purchased from the Earp family on the east side of what was then the Old Fuquay Road. Financing to build the four-teacher school in Holly Springs came from a fund established by Sears, Roebuck and Company President Julius Rosenwald. The fund provided plans and grants to help build public schools for black children in the rural South. 813 of those schools were built in North Carolina, including the one in Holly Springs. The community called the original structure the “Plank School” because it was made of planks, as most Rosenwald schools were during the time.
William E. Hunt was a teacher at the school from 1943-1944 and principal from 1945-1959. In the early 1950’s, the plank structure was replaced by a brick building. Until 1970, black children went to Holly Springs School through the seventh, later the eighth, grade before attending segregated high schools in Fuquay-Varina or Apex.
“It’s a part of the community, and it’s a part of the educational process that should not be forgotten,” said Furman Beckwith, President of the Holly Springs Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee, who attended the school after it was converted to a brick building. “I think people need to know how education was done and the history behind it and how some of the inequities that were experienced back then may even be the cause of some people’s position now.“
Older residents in Holly Springs still remember how important this school was to the community. 74-year-old George Kimble, who attended the original Plank School recalls a wood building with four classrooms and an auditorium.
“When I came to school in the morning, it would be cold, and the first one who got there made the fire. We had the old pot-bellied coal heater, and you had to keep it stoked all day,” said Kimble. “They stored the coal underneath the school in the crawl space, but it was high under there. You could walk under it, and if it rained, that’s where we had our recess up under that building, shooting marbles.”
Holly Springs resident Doris Taylor Battle, who attended the brick school, says historical records from that time are scarce and you have to dig deep to even find that there was a school here in Holly Springs for black people.
“We are so pleased that the Town of Holly Springs is placing an historic marker on the site of this school, that educated so many of our town’s youth and contributed significantly to the rich African American history of Holly Springs,” said Battle. “I think it was 1969 – the last year we were here – a lot of us haven’t even see each other since then because you grow up, you grow apart. I would like to see the community come back together and say ‘I remember when…’”
“We are looking forward to inviting the whole community to a ceremony this summer to unveil the historic marker,” said Mayor Dick Sears. “Thank you to everyone who researched and contributed to this worthy project and we are honored to be able to make this announcement during black history month.”