A Chatham Black History Month Tribute by Saundra Gardner

  • February 16, 2021

Saundra Gardner

Let me take you on a journey that started in 2000, the year I became the first black social worker in Chatham County Schools. Get in your vehicle and turn with me onto Horton Rd. A road named after George Moses Horton, a slave that loved words. Words from sermons, songs and from the white students studying nearby as he worked on the plantation. George taught himself to read. On Sundays he would walk 8 miles to Chapel Hill. He met students there that were in love with the way he recited poetry. They were shocked that he wrote the poetry. He made 25 cents selling love poems. George went on to become a published poet. BUT he was still a slave. He published a book, The Hope of Liberty, BUT he was still a slave.  A newspaperman, a college professor and a governor raised money to buy George’s freedom, But he remained a slave. In 1863, at the age of 63, after publishing two books, The Emancipation Proclamation freed George Moses Horton. He holds the distinction of being the first African American to publish a book, and the only one to publish while living in slavery. 

George Moses Horton, I stood on your shoulders as I turned into Horton Middle School, formerly Horton High School. 

The School started as a framed building shaped like a rabbit box.  Material from the white school was sent to the rabbit box school and Pittsboro Colored School was built. Students attended that school until 1934. Then fire destroyed the building. One of the principals of that school, Bud Hunter, named the School after George Moses Horton. In 1934, Horton Consolidated School, a brick building was built. Mr. Benjamin J. Lee (yes the one whose name is on the Northwood High School auditorium) worked hard to develop a high school and in 1934 Dear Ole ’HORTON  High Was Born!!! Benjamin J. Lee was the first principal. He served as principal until his death in 1944. In 1935 the first class graduated. On December 11, 2019, Mrs. Joanna Leach, a member of the class of 1935 passed away at the age of 104.

HORTON HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES, you raised me and I remember you, as I pass The I.E. Taylor Gymnasium which was built in 1958. 

The I. E. Taylor Gymnasium was the place that all students, in grades 1-12, met on the first day of the school year and heard their name called and left with their new teacher. A lot of names have been called in that gym, a few of those are Mrs. Uva Holland, the first African American woman elected as a Chatham County Commissioner. She was a positive fixture in the Holland Chapel community and all over the County. Another name that was called was Margaret Bryant Pollard. She grew up on a farm in the Moncure area. She was proud to have graduated as a Valedictorian of her Horton High School Class. She too went on to be a County Commissioner. Margaret B. Pollard Middle School bears her name. She was the granddaughter of a slave. Margaret Bryant Pollard attributed her success to the lessons she learned from her parents and siblings. They taught her how to overcome life’s challenges with determination and a positive attitude. 

Margaret B.  Pollard, I took your determination with me as I turned the corner behind what was once called the Primary Building, also built in 1956. 

Inside, I remembered Mrs. Lillie Freeman Rodgers. Ms. Rodgers taught 38 years in the Chatham County School System and provided tutorial services in the home. She taught what we now call the Exceptional Children, the students that needed a little more than the regular classroom could provide. She was named Mother of the Year at NC A&T State University. She mothered all the students in her class and her Church. I look to my left and I remember the home Of Clara and Ernest Dark. Their home was located next to the school. Mr. Dark was a part of the coaching staff at Northwood High School that helped with the Integration transition in Pittsboro. Ernest Dark Jr, a former Chatham county school board member is their son. He served on the Board of Education for 9 years. He continues to strive to keep the memory of Dear Ole Horton High alive.

I journeyed inside the current 5th grade hall and I remembered all of my elementary school Divine 9 influences, Mrs. Clara Dark and Mrs. Josephine Lightsey were members of Zeta Phi Beta. Mrs. Annie M. Farrar and Mrs. Mariam Emerson were members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Mr. I. E. Taylor and Mr. Ernest Dark were members of Phi Beta Sigma, and Mrs.Thelma Mckay, and Mrs. Addie Laws are members of Delta Sigma Theta. Mrs. Farrar and Mrs. Emerson helped me to decide to become a member of my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. The Divine 9 may be a term you have heard recently during the Presidential Election. They are African American Service Sororities and Fraternities. Madame Vice President Kamala Harris is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.

All of the former teachers of Horton High School, YOU molded me. 

I continued to the main office and peered into the Horton Middle School media center, the first photo I saw is that of my principal from grades 1-8, Mr. I. E. Taylor. Born in 1911 in Chatham County, he lived with his grandfather, an ex-slave. His grandfather instilled in Mr. Taylor a love for learning. During that time, blacks could only receive a seventh grade education in Pittsboro. Mr. Taylor moved to Raleigh to live with family to attend school and work. He went on to graduate from Shaw University. He returned to Pittsboro to teach at Horton Consolidated School under the leadership of Principal Benjamin J.  Lee. He left Horton for several years to fill in a vacancy at J. S. Waters. Upon Lee’s death in 1944, Mr. Taylor was named principal at Horton. During his tenure at Horton High School, he saw the campus evolve from a one-building facility to a campus of three buildings. In 1970, Horton became a middle school. Mr. Taylor played an integral part in the transition during the integration of the black and white schools. 

Mr. Taylor's discipline was legendary and known and sometimes felt all over town. Mr. Taylor taught me how to shift to something new.

Continue with me down the Pittsboro- Goldston Rd as I traveled to my second assignment in Goldston.   In 1939 there was a school named Goldston Colored School. Later called Goldston High School. In compliance with the Civil Rights Act, the school integrated in 1970 and became JS Waters Elementary. I noticed a picture of a man on the wall and discovered he was Walter Alston McLaughlin, Sr., born October 21, 1910. Mr. McLaughlin taught mathematics at the Goldston Colored School and later became principal before being drafted to serve in the U. S. Army.  After completing his military duty, he returned to Goldston. During those years in the 40’s, 50’s and beyond, he bonded with the community and served the Goldston Community as principal for over 30 years. He loved his students, respected their families and believed there were greater opportunities for them. In the 60’s, Mr. McLaughlin served the Chatham County School System as Supervisor of Secondary Education. Mr. McLaughlin's shoulders gave me a sense of community in an area that was new to me.

I concluded my day by turning onto Pittsboro Elementary School Road for my third assignment. I started to think about two ladies that were our version of Ruby Bridges. A story about courage that we often fail to mention as we speak of black history in Pittsboro. In 1966 two years after the Civil Rights Act, Chatham’s The “Freedom of Choice” plan gave black students the opportunity to go to Pittsboro Primary and Pittsboro High School. 6th grader Eunice Goins went to Pittsboro Primary and 10th grader Shirley Scurlock went to Pittsboro High School. They and a few others decided to try “Freedom's Choice”. They both talk about the terrible things that happened to them that year. Stepping onto the bus and everyone moving to sit on the opposite side. Eating alone in the cafeteria, the racial slurs, the fights and bullying. There were a few black students but not many. Some of them dropped out and others returned to Horton. The lighter your skin tone the more accepted you were at the school. They had no friends. They had no allies. Eunice finished the school year but went back to Horton the next year. Shirley stuck with it and graduated from Pittsboro High School. Two years before the school was integrated in 1970. I talked to some people and they had similar experiences in Goldston. These brave students wonder why they and the trauma they experienced are never mentioned.

Eunice Goins, Shirley Scurlock and all of the Black Students who volunteered to be the first in Chatham County Schools before mandatory integration, this day, February 5, 2021 as we celebrate black history month, I say your names!!!!

Resources:  

  • Horton High School Alumni
  • Chatham County NC Historical Association
  • The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton: Don Tate
  • Horton High School 1935-1970 Yearbook
  • Knotts Funeral Home Website
  • Eunice Goins Allen
  • Shirley Scurlock Hart
  • Myron Jones
  • Mattie Jill Smith

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