School celebrates 90th anniversary

Published 1:43 am Friday, July 15, 2011

Alumni attending the Ware Creek Rosenwald School’s 90th anniversary include, (from left, front row) Vera Tripp and Earle Oden; (second row) Serena Hill Gaynor, Leon Carter, Hildred Willis, Beatrice Hutchinson and Helma Witchet; (third row) William Smith, Oswald Birt, Bunyan Keys and Thessalon Aldridge. (Submitted Photo)

The Ware Creek Rosenwald School and community center in Blounts Creek celebrated its 90th anniversary July 2.

Over 150 people attended the all-day reunion at which breakfast, lunch and dinner were served. During the day alumni and other citizens shared the history, the joy and the pride in this school building which they and their ancestors helped to build. They expressed special pride that the school is still in use as a community center and as an adult education center affiliated with Beaufort County Community College.

Leading the celebration, Phyllis Moore-Johnson, Serena Hill Gaynor and Helma Witchet, reported that it was a labor of love with a great deal of community support. Moore-Johnson acted as mistress of ceremony and introduced the alumni attending the event.

Oswald Birt, 89 years old, reported that he had enjoyed every day of school, but had to quit after seven years and go to work.

Earle Oden stated she was so very glad to go to school even though she had to walk five miles every day.

Julius Rosenwald Williams said, “Those school days were the best days of my life.”

Also attending the event were Ed Booth, Beaufort County commissioner; Patricia Bragg, Aurora town commissioner; Sally Love, director, Eagle’s Wings; Ricky Hines, representing the N.C. Department of Agriculture in Greenville; Carol Shields, director of renovations of the Rosenwald Center in Hamilton, and the musical group Dreams Come True with Luther Harvey as singer.

Alethea Williams-King, president of Ware Creek Community Development Program Inc., presented the history of the Ware Creek Rosenwald School.

The school was built in 1921 at a cost of $3,800 and was known as Chocowinity Colored School No. 2. Black citizens in the area contributed $800, Beaufort County, $2,000, and Julius Rosenwald, $1,000.

This union came about because Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, president and part owner of Sears-Roebuck in Chicago, were friends. Washington enlisted the help of Rosenwald, a philanthropist, to help build schools for black children in the southern part of the United States. The agreement was that Rosenwald would provide “seed money” for a black community that wanted a school and was willing to contribute funds to the building. Over 5,000 educational buildings in 15 southern states were built. In North Carolina, 813 were built.

In 1932, the building project ended with Rosenwald having contributed $4.3 million and black citizens $4.7 million.

In Beaufort County six Rosenwald schools were built – one in Washington on River Road, Bath, Leechville and Ware Creek, and two in Pantego with one still standing.

Williams-King reported the Ware Creek school closed in 1952 and the students were divided between the Washington and Aurora schools.

In 1954, the Ware Creek community purchased the school and continued to maintain it until 1994. At that time, outside assistance was needed to continue the task of remodeling. Major funding was provided by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and the Covington and Z. Smith Reynolds foundations.

“However, assistance to complete the restoration of this historic landmark is still needed and contributions are tax-deductible,” Williams-King stated.

It was concluded that Beaufort County is filled with historic sites, but none more important than the Rosenwald schools – they changed the lives of a people. They were built by the black communities with the help of Julius Rosenwald and major support by the county.