Preserving the legacy of the Ware Creek Rosenwald School

Published 9:00 am Sunday, June 23, 2024

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The Ware Creek Rosenwald School in Blounts Creek is nestled in a small open field along Maules Point Road, surrounded by wooded land and acre upon acre of tobacco fields. Built in 1921, it was part of the vision of Julias Rosenwald, philanthropist, and president of Sears and Roebuck, and Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute. Hailed as one of the most important initiatives to advance black education, the schools were built specifically for African American children in the South. “Our ancestors raised the matching funds needed so the school could be built,” said Phyllis Moore-Johnson who was born in Blounts Creek and is the President of the Ware Creek Rosenwald School Community Center. “Will David Williams, a master carpenter, along with other members of the community including my great-uncle Joseph Moore, built the school in which we sit today. Williams was the grandfather of our past president and lifelong Blounts Creek resident Alethea Williams King. The trail by the school has been named in her honor.”

The small wooden structure has three classrooms which were designed to accommodate the many different ages of children who attended and a front stage area where school functions were held. The back of the building is lined with windows from end to end, to catch as much natural light as possible as there was no electricity. An old wood stove still sits in one corner which was used to provide heat during the winter. “My mother, Lillian Moore, attended this school,” said Johnson. “She used to walk three-fourths of a mile to get to school, while other children might have to walk three or four miles. She played baseball here with the guys. She was good! Really good according to my Uncle Joseph,” she said with a grin of admiration.

Fannie Willis, a Washington, NC native and vice president of the Ware Creek Rosenwald School Community also has deep ties with the school. “My husband Serinus Willis Sr. was born and raised in Blounts Creek,” said Willis. “His mother Betsy Williams Clark went to school here, and he has been instrumental in the preservation and restoration efforts over the years. As a retired school teacher, I once worked with Ms. Alethea to develop a Black history curriculum for grades three through five, for some of our area schools, but she passed before it could be implemented. Students need to know about this place and adults for that matter.”

Though the school had been closed for many years, it has remained a cornerstone of the community. Beaufort County Community College donated ten computers that are utilized for teaching computer skills. There have been health fairs, exercise classes, music classes, quilting classes, and many community events, held within the same walls of learning that their ancestors once attended. “Our goal is to continue to bring people together and create a sense of community and fellowship and a place where they can learn,” said Johnson.

The vision of Johnson and Willis and many others in the community are high and ambitious. “We desperately need internet service here at the school,” said Johnson. “We want to make this a communications center for those who don’t have Internet access or don’t know how to use a computer. We also need a good sound system for the many community events that we hold. And we hope to make the facility more child-friendly with the addition of some new playground equipment. At the least, we want a place where people can come and relax their minds in solitude and serenity. A place they can call their own.”

Johnson and Willis are driven to make it all happen be it through fundraising events, donations, whatever it takes. “My husband was born and raised here and I want to do all I can to help his hometown grow and flourish,” said Willis. “I would love to see us return to the days when there was a more of a sense of community and people seemed to be much closer.”

Although born in Blounts Creek, Johnson grew up and lived in New York for many years. Seventeen years ago she followed the ongoing tugs on her heartstrings and returned to her roots with her husband. They built a home on the very land where she was born. “This school is a part of my legacy,” said Johnson. “My mother went to school here and my grandparents were instrumental in building it. I feel the education that my mother received here helped me to get where I am today. I can trace my family in this area back to the 1700s. So keeping this history alive and recognizing those who put their hearts and souls into this building is something you just can’t let go of.”