The history of “Teacher’s Row”

Published 4:27 pm Monday, June 24, 2024

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Many people who have attended my African American history tours since 2010 have heard me talk about how prominent Black business leaders and others gave names to Bridge, Van Norden, Gladden, Respess and Market Street to designate their importance to the African American community.

This weekend I received several requests to give the information about ‘Teacher’s Row’ that was known as Van Norden Street as they had seen a sign while on a history tour denoting Gladden Street as ‘Teacher’s Row.’

Gladden Street was known historically as ‘Prosperity Row’ because of the professionally, very prosperous African Americans who lived there. Gladden Street was also listed in the Green Book as having two Black businesses.

Van Norden has been historically called ‘Teacher’s Row’ in the African American community from the early 1900’s. George Washington Thompson and his wife Betsy had a very large two-story house near the corner of Third and Van Norden. It was called a ‘Teacherage’ as new teachers, especially for those who had moved to teach at what was then called the Washington Colored School.

When his boarding house was full, he would often ask people living on Van Norden Street to open their homes to new teachers. He jokingly called Van Norden Street ‘Teachers Row.’

The name however became widely known and highly respected as ‘Teacher’s Row’ when Dr. Alfred. Gordan Davis, principal of the Washington Colored School, proudly graduated Maude Matilda Payton and Annie Rebecca Harvey as the first black ‘high school’ graduates in Washington NC history.

The school had only gone up to the 7th grade when Mr. Louis Rhodes Randolph was the founder and principal of the school.

When Dr. Davis became Principal, he added another grade, making the Eighth Grade as ‘high school.’ Their graduation from ‘high school’ indeed made history in Washington. Miss Maude Matilda Payton and Miss Harvey graduated in 1911, three years after Dr. Davis became principal.

After Miss Payton married Dr. William Beebe in 1919, she became a teacher at the Washington Colored School, and they lived at 326 Van Norden Street near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

She started her own ‘Teacherage’ in this house and many new teachers lived here and were mentored by Mrs. Beebe. It was around that time that Dr. Davis proudly proclaimed Van Norden Street as Teacher’s Row.

Miss Annie Rebecca Harvey (Armstrong) also became a teacher as well.
Shortly thereafter, a Kindergarten for African American children name ‘The Buds of Promise Kindergarten’ opened in New Jerusalem Baptist Church on Van Norden Street near where Evergreen Holiness Church is today.

The kindergarten was operated by a teacher, Mrs. Jane Caroline C. Langley, giving the street name ‘Teacher’s Row’ even more fame.

Teacher’s Row became even more prominent when teachers began to open their own homes on Van Norden Street between Second and Third Street to new or prospective teachers.

The most well-known teacherage was located at 312 Van Norden Street where Little Grove Holiness Church is today. That teacherage produced more teachers than any other for the African American community, including Principal, Mr. Ollen Augustus Dupree. Another prominent principal, Mr. William H. Beason became his teaching career in Washington as he lived briefly at a teacherage that was located at Van Norden and Fifth Streets.

I will share more about historic African American neighborhoods, the homes and the people who lived in them in future columns and, in an upcoming book, Washington NC Historic Black neighborhoods.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.