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Spaulding alumni work to preserve school’s history

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SPRING HOPE — When African American community members hear the word “Spaulding,” they think of the triumph it took to be able to teach their children when black people lacked the fundamental opportunity of education during racial segregation. At the onset of leaving the building, alumni members sought to spread its treasured history for generations to come.

In 1921, Spaulding’s humble beginnings arose as an all-black school in a two-room classroom near Meeks Cemetery where it took the name Meeks School. The school was soon moved to the Odd Fellows Hall. Community leaders, however, sought for a better schooling arrangement for their children.

With black donors donating land for the school and help from the Julius Rosenwald Fund — which donated millions for African American schools — along with matching funds from Nash County, Meeks School was relocated to its current location on South Pine Street.

The name was changed to Spring Hope Colored High School. During the same year, the students and teachers faced a devastating loss as they saw their beloved school go up in flames, moving the school into nearby churches.

With students now having to be educated at St. Stephen and New Hope churches, Nash County decided to replace the building for the Spaulding students. Later, more buildings were added on to the school, including an agricultural building, a gym that was nicknamed the “Tin Can” due to it being covered in tin, and the high school building near Pine Street to fight overcrowding from newly consolidating schools.

After the addition of the high school building, the school was named C.C. Spaulding after Charles Clinton Spaulding, who was the head of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. — one of the largest African American businesses in America. The school mascot became the Spaulding Tigers.

The school continued to advance with a new auditorium and constructed more buildings for classroom use. The class of 1941 was the first to graduate from the high school building, which only went up to the 11th grade.

President Bernard Howard of the C.C. Spaulding Alumni Association recalled notable events that occurred at Spaulding. Some of his most memorable moments include Spaulding’s annual Christmas play and the rest of the plays that the Dramatics Club would put on throughout the year. He remembered how Spaulding’s Glee Club would always put on remarkable concerts. One of his favorite performances occurred at the end of the school year when the band and Glee Club would showcase their talents in their annual concert near graduation time.

Spaulding also had a Newspaper Club, 4-H Club, an agricultural shop and a home economics class. Early alumni recall having the time of their lives in the Tin Can at their junior-senior prom. They also remember playing basketball there until the new brick gymnasium was built.

In the Spaulding auditorium, gospel singing would be preceded by a whole weekend of events. Toney’s Turnout, which was started by the Toney family, is also legendary in the black community to this day. During the celebration, attendees would gather on the Spaulding property for a fun-filled day with music from Spaulding’s band, gospel groups, picnics and activities.

“We use to have what we called Toney’s Turnout in town every year in September,” Howard said. “William Toney’s Funeral Home had the turnout and they had a parade go through Spring Hope.”

The school had many successes. One of the alumni’s proudest achievements is when their own Betty Bailey scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT, being the first student in the area to do so.

In 1955, Spaulding had a championship basketball team, which at the time could only play against other local black teams.

The alumni association even recognizes those who started at their school and later went on to win championship games at other schools.

“That just tells you that skills carry over,” Howard said. “You’re honed up here in Spaulding and as you go out somewhere else you keep excelling with it.”

The band that rocked South Pine Street in Toney’s Turnout was the same band that, as Howard stated, “scored second to none.”

“In 1964, we scored first place in Winston-Salem at the music festival they had,” he said. “They gave two letters to the baritone players, one was Vananzer Grady and the other one was me.”

Multiple students from Spaulding went on to earn doctorates, such as Bobby Meeks, who became a dental surgeon. Some students founded successful businesses, like Richard Lucas, who founded Africare in Washington, D.C. Spaulding has also had former students become high-ranking officials in the military, including Frank Purnell Oakley*, who became a colonel in the United States Army. Alumni James Bond started out in the Marine Corps enlisted ranks and later became an officerm eventually rising to the rank of major, which Howard notes is a very challenging thing to do.

“Spaulding produced a lot of successful people,” said alumni association Vice President Annie Hawkins. “A lot of our students went to college.”

Hawkins also noted that even those who didn’t go to college worked many successful jobs and came back to contribute to the community. The Spaulding alumni hold their achievements in high regard due to the obstacles they collectively faced during the Jim Crow era.

“It was still that thing about separate water fountains and separate bathrooms,” Howard said, noting the discriminatory atmosphere at that time.

Spaulding’s history would not be complete without its teacherage located at 342 School St. in Spring Hope. In 1922-23, the home was budgeted with $1,300 from the local black community, $600 from the Rosenwald Foundation and $900 from the school board to buy a home for the female African American teachers who taught at Spaulding. Now, the alumni association is trying to make it more museum-quality and get scholarship winners to come back and volunteer time there to share the organization’s history.

The teachers’ home has many sections to honor Spaulding alumni veterans, those who’ve made considerable contributions to the association and administrators and classmates.

For each class’s 50th anniversary, organizers created a display in a sectioned-off part of the house to remember and honor their golden years. The class of 1969 was the last class to display its remembrances. The room is decorated with cap and gown pictures of the classmates, old-fashioned sewing machines that were used in home economics, vinyl records and a memorial near a “Stairway to Heaven” poster to honor late and cherished classmates. The display will stay up for one year and will be taken down around August.

The alumni will then start preparing for the Labor Day weekend where other alumni members come from places as far away as California to meet for three days during a family fun event.

During this time, they will eat hot dogs and hamburgers and get together to recount memories. The participants play several games, including wrapping a maypole, sack races, and corn toss. In the past, Howard recalled them having a baseball game afterward to add to the competitive spirit.

The C.C. Spaulding Alumni Association also presents its annual Sweetheart Disco for Valentine’s Day at the O.D. Moore building in Nashville. The association says its efforts are to keep kids in college and to “keep the Spaulding spirit alive.”

During integration, 10th- through 12th graders were sent to the newly established Southern Nash Senior High School in 1969. This changed Spaulding’s name to Spaulding Middle School. Nearly 10 years later, Spaulding went back to only teaching grades 4-6, while the middle-grade levels were sent to Southern Nash Junior High School. Spaulding then changed its name to Spaulding Elementary School.

After its schooling years, Spaulding has undergone many transformations, including having some of the aging buildings destroyed after being deemed unsafe. Alumni member Edward Hodge remembered watching the incident unfold and seeing alumni and former Spring Hope commissioner Nancy Walker crying while she watched the destruction of her school.

“When you see your history burning down,” he said, “it touches you.”

In its recent years, the main building was turned into the Spaulding Resource Center to aid the community in computer access, educational programs and partnered health services. A smaller classroom building then served as the pre-K facility for Spring Hope Elementary. In 2017, at the recommendation of then-Superintendent Sheldon Jefferies, the school system declared the Spaulding campus surplus property and decided to sell it.

The alumni association approached the school system to request to purchase the campus directly from the county, but Jefferies informed the group that the property would be auctioned.

The C.C. Spaulding alumni fought hard in the bidding process to buy back their treasured school, but current owner S&J Holdings won the bidding for the 30-acre campus at $174,000.

With the historic building sold, the alumni moved their resource center to what was previously a day care facility on the corner of Walnut and Nash streets, where they continue to help others in the community.

The alumni association’s main mission now is to help students through scholarships and to preserve the school’s history. Alumni encourage visitors, especially the youth, to come out to the teachers’ home in the warmer months.

“Even to this day, we have a lot of pride in what we’ve accomplished and what we did at the school,” said Hawkins. “We try to keep the spirit alive even though we didn’t get the school.”

* = CORRECTION, April 29Frank Purnell Oakley was misidentified as Purnell Pulley in the published version of this story. Mr. Oakley's name has been corrected on SpringHopeEnterprise.com. The Enterprise regrets the error. 

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