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Wadelington highlights five educators at HCC’s Black History Program

On Feb. 8, Halifax Community College (HCC) featured speaker Flora Hatley Wadelington at The Centre at HCC as part of Black History Month events. She discussed the topic, “Five You Know: Educators in North Carolina.”


“I like to start right after the Civil War in looking at the ways in which African Americans were educated,” she said. The N.C. state constitution (1868) required the General Assembly to provide a general and uniform system of free public schools for all children ages 6-21 and did not mandate separation of races. An amendment in 1875 was adopted that ordained the separate but equal educational facilities for white and African-American children. “This was the beginning of North Carolina’s racially segregated system of public education and that system remained in effect for roughly 80 years,” explained Wadelington. The state system was a tri-racial system because of the American Indian population in the area.


In 1897, the state treasury appropriated money to help finance the operation of a public school system. The state department of public instruction began to build schools. First, elementary schools for white youth were built. Then, elementary schools for African-American youth were built. This was followed by secondary school construction for white youth. The secondary schools for African-American youth were located in more populous areas of the state. As a result, individuals with help from philanthropic organizations began to open institutes for educating African-American youth. “The only glitch was that the parents had to be able to afford to send the young person to the school,” she continued.


Wadelington then talked about five African-American educators in North Carolina. These included Annie Wealthy Holland, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, James Edward Shepard, Samuel Edward Duncan, and Elizabeth Duncan Koontz.


Holland was a local educator and “a tireless worker for the rural counties of North Carolina,” according to Wadelington. She became a Jeanes Fund agent, traveling and demonstrating different home economics topics. Her position later became part of the N.C. Division of Negro Education. She was promoted and traveled throughout the state, although she worked out of nearby Gates County. She also founded the N.C. Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, which was the first African-American parent-teacher association in the state.


Brown was a proponent of educating young people in the state. She founded the Palmer Memorial Institute. It became one of the most prestigious prep schools for African-American youth. She served at Palmer as president for more than 50 years. In 1971, lack of financial resources and a fire in the administration building forced the closure of the school. In the 1980s, the state established the Charlotte Hawkins Brown State Memorial Site, becoming one of the 21 official state historic sites.


Shepard was the founder and long-time president of North Carolina Central University. “Dr. Shepard was a great visionary,” added Wadelington. He refused to support the efforts on behalf of African-American citizens of Durham to integrate majority institutions. He politicked at the General Assembly by saying that if they would place graduate programs at NCCU, then African-American students would not try to seek entrance into UNC-Chapel Hill. “That was very unsettling for the African-American community because they felt he was going along with segregation,” Wadelington said. By his standing firm and being granted graduate programs later including a law school, nursing school and school of library science, Wadelington said that the institution of NCCU itself is his contribution and legacy.


Duncan served as a teacher, principal and then as the president of Livingstone College. He also served as the president of the N.C. Teachers Association. In 1946, he became the State Supervisor of Negro High Schools within the Department of Public Instruction. Duncan was an advocate of year-round schools. He has been honored by the city of Salisbury, N.C., with the naming of an elementary school after him. Then, Livingstone College worked to place the elementary school on the National Register of Historic Places.


Koontz, sister to Duncan, was instrumental in the work of the N.C. Teachers Association (NCTA), which had been created for African-American teachers. Then, in 1970, the NCTA merged with its white counterpart, the N.C. Association of Educators. Koontz was instrumental in the NCTA and later served as the first African-American president of the National Education Association. Later on, President Richard Nixon appointed her to head the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor. Then, she came back to North Carolina and became an assistant superintendent of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. An elementary school was named for her in Rowan County.


“This has been the ‘five you know.’ My challenge for you is the ‘five to know.’ Who are the five educators in the area who should be recognized? What type of recognition will you seek for them,” asked Wadelington. She encouraged the audience to identify those in the local community who have been trailblazers and visionaries and “then, lift those people from obscurity to notoriety.”


Afterwards, a book signing and reception were held where guests met the speaker.


Wadelington is an Assistant Professor of History in the Social Science Department at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C. Her current research topic, “Getting Along: Healing the Sick, Lawson Andrew Scruggs and Lemuel Thackara Delany 1886-1956” examines the medical practices of two African American physicians during Jim Crow. Segregation limited their medical practice to their own race, but it did not limit them. Also, a Shaw University grant funded the research for Four Days in April on the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination and the eruption of violence on the perimeter of the Shaw campus.  It examines the leadership of Shaw President Dr. James E. Cheek as he used his own best judgment to diffuse the volatile situations that occurred between students, local police officers and National Guard troops.


Wadelington has assisted President Emeritus Dr. Prezell R. Robinson of St. Augustine’s College write his memoir, A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. She is also the co-author of A History of African Americans in North Carolina and co-editor of Black Americans in North Carolina and the South.



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Educator and author Flora J. Hatley Wadelington, right, spoke on “Five You Know: Educators in North Carolina” as part of Black History Month, Feb. 8 at The Centre.