Full Circle As one goes by the South Academy Street site of the new cultural arts center, echoes and whispers of times past can be heard. If they listen carefully, they can hear the words of the Class of 1923 that were enshrined in their yearbook:
“We, the Graduating Class of 1923, in full possession of sound mind and foolish looking bodies, realize that the years spent at Cary High School are ever to be remembered as the (happiest)? we have known.….To our mothers and fathers we leave a heart full of gratitude for sacrifices made in order for us to attend this seat of learning.”1
As one traverses the grounds, one might hear the recollections of C. Y. Jordan who had a different experience with another school located at the edge of the site:
"The Cary Colored School was a little frame building. I remember the days when the black children would be walking up Academy Street going to their school and we would be walking up Academy Street going to our school….We had all played together, but then went to different schools. I didn't question it. That was just the way it was.” 2
These are some of the many memories that one hears. If they listen carefully, they can possibly hear the words of Clyde Evans, Jr; Robert Godbold; Elva Templeton, Miriam Brown, and countless of others young boys and girls, young men and women, teachers, administrators, and residents who have been impacted by the site.3
Since the 1870s, the South Academy Street site has been a center of learning. School buildings were constructed, torn down, and repurposed. Whether at Cary Academy, Cary High School, Cary Elementary, or the nearby Cary Colored School, school-aged children have always traversed the walkways, hallways and grounds in pursuit of a quality education.
As these aforementioned recollections and other oral histories, newspaper articles, and even by attendees at this opening of this photographic exhibit, this site and the Cary Colored School, though, were more than buildings. Teachers, administrators, and staff encouraged many generations of students to aspire to greatness. As a result, the site holds special meaning for many former students, alumni, and members of the community.
Today, I am going to briefly discuss the rich history of the four schools that existed on the site. As I discuss each school, I will hope to demonstrate that these four schools reflect the history of education in North Carolina. Through this lecture, I also hope to show how the educational legacies of the Cary Colored School, Cary Academy, Cary High, and Cary Elementary will always influence the new Cultural Arts center. These schools embodied the town’s commitment to innovation, academic excellence, community pride, and even adaptive reuse. Indeed, the site has come full circle.
Cary Colored School
While very few sources exist in the historical record, the Cary Colored School left an indelible mark on the South Academy site, the town, and African American education in North Carolina.
After the Civil War, African American education became a reality across the state and region. While rumors exists that a Freedmen’s School existed in the area during Reconstruction, it is evident that African-Americans who lived in the area valued education. Like African Americans elsewhere, the African American residents of the town were very committed to education and strove to erect schools. Pooling their meager resources, the African American community attempted to purchase a suitable location for a school. However, a donation from a unused outbuilding of the Cary Academy led the formal creation of the Cary Colored School in 1893.4
From 1893-1936, African-American children attended the town’s first African-American public school. Located in a three-room wooden building at edge of the South Academy Street site, countless of children received a quality education at Cary Colored School. Their education was made possible through the support of the African American community whose continued financial and non-financial support made it possible for a select number of children to overcome the period’s racial order and receive an educational foundation for future success as adults.5
Moreover, the students of the Cary Colored School benefited from highly qualified teachers. Like other African-American teachers of the period, the school teachers had received their teaching training from the first colleges and/or normal schools established for African Americans during and since Reconstruction, specifically Shaw University, St. Augustine’s College, Winston-Salem Teachers College, and Kitterell College. As public school teachers, moreover, they, like their white counterparts, had to maintain their state’s teacher certification in order to be employed. Thus, students at the school received a quality education by highly trained teachers. The teacher’s qualifications ensured that students had access to the best educational instruction and methods possible during the school’s tenure.6
In addition, the teachers were dedicated to their students’ success. Individuals, like Reverend Mabry, Mrs. Ada Ruffin, and Miss Dora Stroud, encouraged their students to achieve academic excellence and to “stay firm to what you know.”7 Although destroyed by fire in 1936 and replaced by the East Cary Elementary School, the school left an indelible mark on the landscape, alumni, and community.8
From Cary Academy to Cary High to Cary Elementary, 1870-2002
In 1870, Cary Academy was built by Allison Francis (Frank) Page, the founder of Cary. The original school was a four-room, two-story, wooden structure that stood at the head of Academy Street. The small school attracted students from the town and surrounding area for a quality education. Among Cary Academy’s first graduating class, as recounted in the News and Observer in 1941, was Walter Hines Page, author, educator and son of Frank Page. In 1873, Frank Page sold one-third interest in Cary Academy to Rufus Jones. In 1886, Page sold the remaining two-thirds to Sarah and Lula Jones, two daughters of Rufus Jones. The Jones’ were educators who were firmly committed to education. They continued to maintain the original mission of Cary Academy ---academic excellence. Cary Academy continued to provide quality education to local and boarding students until its incorporation as Cary High School in June 1896.9
As a private high school, Cary High quickly gained a reputation for academic excellence under the management of Edwin Lee Middleton. As a result of the school’s “moral and religious influences, the training in promptness and regularity, and instruction in the classrooms,” the school expanded. From 1896 to 1907, the school building grew from one or two-room structure to a building of sixteen rooms. The teachers expanded in number from two to three to eight. A few dormitories rooms for a small number of boarders expanded to full scale dormitories for approximately 100 boarding students.10
In 1907, Cary High School underwent a major transformation. The North Carolina General Assembly developed a statewide system of public high schools. It is one of the first states to develop public high schools and was a leader in the national high school movement. According to the new legislation, North Carolina will now match existing local monies and invest in providing at least five months of high school instruction. (This academic year would eventually expand but initially the state was committed to fully funding at least a five month academic year.)11
As a result, Cary High School then became the state’s first public county high school in 1907. It became the first because a top-notch school and administration already existed. Middleton and stockholders almost immediately capitalized on the existence of the private high school for the conversion. In their appeal to the Wake County Board of Education, the Public School Committee of Cary Township asked that the Board to “buy the school and convert it into on of the public high schools…provided for by the recent legislation.” The Board agreed, purchased the school, and Cary High School became “the first county high school in the State of North Carolina.”12
The new Cary High School became a model high school in North Carolina. State officials regularly monitored its curriculum, teaching techniques used, apparatus used in order to emulate in other state high schools. With its status as the first and as a model school, Cary High School received strong local support for its innovative programs, excellent teachers, and especially for the high academic standards established by early principal Marcus Baxter Dry.13
In 1908, Marcus Baxter Dry began his long tenure as principal of Cary High School. Over his tenure, Principal Dry continued to build upon the educational legacies of the prior two schools. In terms of innovation, Dry greatly expanded the facilities. In 1913, he had a new building constructed for classroom instruction and converted the old building into a dormitory. The new main building consisted of thirty-three rooms, a kitchen, a dining and sewing room, a physical and chemical laboratory, and a daily laboratory. The dormitories were upgraded to include hot and cold water, bathrooms, and toilets. In each renovation and improvement to the facilities, Dry ensured that the school was equipped with the most modern conveniences.14
In 1914, Cary High School was made one of the State Farm-life Schools by the generosity of the Templeton brothers, who donated sixteen acres of land for a farm, and of the citizens who subscribed $1,500 to provide suitable buildings and equipment for the farm. Using the model barn and farm cottage, students were able to learning the most modern agricultural and farming techniques in addition to the normal liberal arts curriculum. He also added over his tenure playground and other “modern educational apparatuses” in order to ensure that Cary High Students had access to latest educational methods and materials available.15
Dry’s greatest contribution to Cary High School, though, was in terms of academic excellence. Dry expanded the teaching force. The number of teachers and courses taught expanded greatly under his tenure. Dry and the teachers held high expectations of all students. Students, whether in 1916, 1923, or throughout his long tenure, expressed sentiments similar to Miriam Brown, Class of 1937. Brown fondly recalled that Principal Dry and the teaching staff “set the tone. We knew we were there to learn, not to fool around...”16 This devotion to academic excellence is one of the major reasons why Cary High School, like its predecessors, was a fixture of Cary and the state. The Raleigh News and Observer regularly featured articles on the school’s commencements and other events held. Any mention of Marcus Dry or the town of Cary automatically included a discussion of Cary’s rich educational history from Cary Academy to being to the first county public school in North Carolina to the academic rigors of the school’s curriculum under Dry’s leadership to the success of its alumni. By “setting the tone,” Cary High School cemented its position as one the community’s and state’s greatest symbol.17
From 1939-2002, the site has underwent several transformations. Most notably, Cary High School received its iconic four white columns in a WPA construction project that started in 1939. During the construction of the school, approximately 400 students were tightly packed into the Page Building and Templeton Gymnasium. According to one local history of the school and several oral histories, the construction project was a test of the “patience” of both teachers and students.”18
Yet, their patience was rewarded with the opening of the newly renovated Cary High in late 1940. The new “handsome, three-story building” was “chocked full of the most modern equipment for education in North Carolina.” The building now had an intercom system, movie projector, firedoors, a soundproof room for typing classes, a spacious auditorium, and a “well-equipped cafeteria.” Doris Buchanan and other first students in the new building marvelled over the “new student lockers” and other facilities at their disposable. At the dedication ceremony, local and state dignitaries attended the festivities. Governor Clyde Hoey considered Cary “a beacon of hope and inspiration to other communities of the State” in his remarks. Others agreed and for good reason. The iconic columns and renovated structure made Cary High School into one of the “most recognizable places” in Cary because it stately and central presence at the top of Academy Street.19
Another change was one of leadership. In 1942, Principal Dry resigns after 34 years of as principal of the school. On January 26, 1946, Dry dies. Later principals had big shoes to fill after his death. I feel in their own way that they learned the valuable lessons of Dry’s administration and continued to make Cary High School into school of innovation and excellence.20
In 1960, the course of instruction changed at the site. In May 1960, Cary High School graduates its last class at the “old” school. Over 100 students received their diplomas. Within a matter of months, Cary Elementary replaced the high school. On Wednesday, September 7, 1960, young students enter “old” Cary High while about 570 students enter the “new and sprawling campus” of Cary Senior High School. From 1960 to 2002, the site would exist as an elementary school.21
It is in this decade that desegregation occurred starting at the high school and then the elementary school. In terms of desegregation, Cary was a leader in the county. While debate exists over the process and the consequences over integration, two things can not ever be forgotten.
First, Cary paved the way in terms of desegregating Wake County schools although Raleigh experimented with token desegregation prior to 1963. On August 30, 1963, six young teenagers integrated Cary High. Gwen Matthews, Lucille Evans Cotton, and others braved the taunts and anger of the crowd of spectators awaiting their arrival. They endured the social ostracism by some classmates, the “the spit balls” launched at them by others, and other forms of harassment by some. They encountered teachers who “encouraged them” like other students but also “teachers who would not call on them”. As Gwen Matthews and others later recalled, things did improve as there were no real “unusual activities,” or “major upheavals.” Despite current debates over the consequences of desegregation, the bravery and perseverance of the pioneer students should neither be underestimated nor forgotten. It is through their courage that allows for children of all background to receive an education in the same classroom and building today. I applaud them and all of the other early “soldiers” in the desegregation of the Cary schools.22
Second, Cary fared a lot better than other Southern communities in the state, across the region, or even in my hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. Cary lacked the “major upheavals” associated with Prince Edward County, Virginia, Charleston, SC, or even Clinton, Tennessee. As the News and Observer reported on August 31, 1960, things went smoothly. Was it perfect? No. Could it have been handled differently? It is debatable. It is clear that the community weathered the storm of the initial integration debate. By the 1970s, black and white children were able to walk up Academy Street together. Instead of going to separate schools as recalled by C Y. Jordan, they were educated together. Also, the experiences of later students were vastly different than that of the pioneers. From the 1969/70 academic year to 2002, children in Cary Elementary and throughout the town still received a quality education. It was because of the efforts of community leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, and residents, white and black who were driven to maintain the town’s legacy of innovation and excellence in terms of education. I feel that it was also the result of the students selected for the token desegregation. Owing to the efforts of students, town officials, and residents, Cary did not turn into another site of massive resistance.23
Despite these changes, whether physical structure, administration, course of instruction, or composition of the student body, Old Cary High/Cary Elementary and the entire South Academy street remained a center of education, innovation, and excellence until its closure in 2002.24
With the transformation of Old Cary High/Cary Elementary into the new Cultural Arts Center, the site has come full circle. Students will once again walk the hallways of the old Cary School and school will remain a fixture on South Academy street. The new building promises to continue the legacy established by Cary Academy, Cary High, Cary Elementary, and the Cary Colored schools. I know for sure that community leaders, alumni of the other schools, and residents will refuse to the let the new “school” to be anything but a leader in innovation and excellence in terms of cultural, performance, and media art education.
In conclusion, I would like to close with the words of class of 1923 at the Old Cary High School.
“Green and White---our time has come. The curfew has sounded. As the sun sinks slowly below the horizon, closing another day and bespeaking our graduation, we can only murmur---good-bye---Cary High. May you grow greater and stronger every day, and all your efforts meet with that success that has made the name of our school synonymous with all that is manly, clean and fearless. Adieu!”25
As you go through the photographic exhibition and later the new Cultural Arts center, I hope that you are able to bid adieu to the “old” and come to embrace the “new” with the pride and support that has been “synonymous” with the Cary Colored School, Cary Academy, Cary High, and Cary Elementary.
North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Chsite, 1916, 1918, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1927, and 1929
The CHS Echoes, 1921.
Catalogue of Cary High School, 1900/1901-1914/1915
State Library of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC
North Carolina. Department of Public Instruction. Biennial report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina, for the scholastic years 1891-1892 (Raleigh: Josephus Daniels, State Printer and Binder, 1893).
__________________________________________. Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina for the Scholastic Years 1933-1934 and 1935-1936 (Raleigh: State Superintendent of Public Instruction,) Bulletin No. 194.
__________________________________________. Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of North Carolina for the Scholastic Years 1936-1937 and 1937-1938 (Raleigh: State Superintendent of Public Instruction,) Publication No. 209.
__________________________________________. Educational directory of North Carolina, 1936/1937 (Raleigh: State Superintendent of Public Instruction)
Oral Histories of Cary Elementary and High School
Evans, Clyde Jr.
Jordan, C. Y.
United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Records of the
Superintendent of Education for the State of North Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 [microform]. Washington : National Archives, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1971.
News and Observer (Raleigh)
The Cary News
Byrd, Thomas M. and Lisa Coston , Chronology of Cary High School. Paper prepared as a
contribution to the Celebration of Cary High School’s Centennial, March 1996.
Martin, Rachel. “Casting the Mythology: Remembering the Twelve Black Students Who
Desegregated Clinton, Tennessee High School,” paper presented at the Triangle African American History Colloquium’s “Intersecting Identities in African American History and Culture Conference,” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, February 18-19, 2011.
Butchart, Ronald. Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning and the Struggle for Black
Freedom, 1861-1876. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Hicks, Terrence and Abul Pitre, editors, The Educational Lockout of African Americans in
Prince Edward County, Virginia (1959-1964): Personal Accounts and Reflections. Lanham,MD: University Press of America, 2010.
Lelouids, James L. Schooling a New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina,
1880-1920. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
Williams-Vinson, Ella Arrington. Both Sides of the Track II: Recollections of Cary, North
Carolina, 1860-2000. Ed. Muriel Waters Allison (West Columbia: Wentworth Publishing, 2001.
Williams, Heather A. Self Taught. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
Van Scoyoc, Peggy. Desegregating Cary, North Carolina. Cary: Passing Time Press, 2009.
Green, Hilary N. “Educational Reconstruction: African American Education in the Urban South,
1865-1890. “ PhD diss., University of North Carolina, 2010.
Wallace, Kelley. “A Survey of the Negro Schools of Wake County, North Carolina.” MA thesis,
University of North Carolina, 1949.
1 The Chsite, 1923, 6-7. Accessed at the North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
2 Peggy Van Scoyoc, Desegregating Cary, North Carolina (Cary: Passing Time Press, 2009), 103.
3 Oral Histories of Cary Elementary and High School.
4 Desegregating Cary, 43; Ella Arrington Williams-Vinson, Both Sides of the Track II: Recollections of Cary, North Carolina, 1860-2000 ed. Muriel Waters Allison (West Columbia: Wentworth Publishing, 2001), 243-247; United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. Records of the Superintendent of Education for the State of North Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870 [microform] (Washington : National Archives, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1971); To date, I have been unable to find any specific information on the possible Freedmen’s School in the North Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau records. There are some reports of independent schools but not the precise locations of the schools outside of the city of Raleigh. With the existing scholarship on African American education immediately following the Civil War, especially Heather A. Williams’ Self-Taught (2005), Ronald Butchart’s Schooling the Freed People (2010), and my own research, I strongly believe that these rumors might actually be based on the existence of a school.
5 Both Sides of the Track II, 243-247; Desegregating Cary, 43-44.
6 Both Sides of the Track II, 243,245; In terms to public school employment, the public schools developed across the South after the Civil War required an attainment of teaching training and the passing of a certification exam in order to gain employment in the state public school system. As my dissertation research in Virginia, Alabama, Texas, and North Carolina, one could not gain employment in the public schools without qualifying according to the standards established by the respective states and even some districts in addition to state qualifications.
7 Both Sides of the Tracks II: 245
8 Both Sides of the Tracks II, 243-246; Desegregating Cary, 43-44
9 “Raleigh Residents Reflect on Influence of Cary School, News and Observer, August 24, 1941; Thomas M. Byrd and Lisa Coston , “First Quarter Century, 1896-1921,” Chronology of Cary High School, (Paper prepared as a contribution to the Celebration of Cary High School’s Centennial, March 1996), 1.
10 Byrd and Coston , “First Quarter Century, 1896-1921,” 3; Chsite (1916), 8; Chsite (1923)
11 Byrd and Coston, The Chsite (1916), 8
12 Byrd and Coston, 8-9; News and Observer, 30 March 1940, 8 May 1940, and 11 August 1946. North Carolina was a pioneer in the national high school movement at the turn-of-the-century. Cary was unique that as a small rural community, it had a private high school. Most rural counties lacked such facilities . Up to 1920, access to a high school education was limited to large urban centers, such as Raleigh, Washington, DC, and Richmond or to private schools. For more information, see James L. Lelouids, Schooling a New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
13 The strong community support is evident in the coverage of the town and school in the News and Observer. The News and Observer regularly featured articles on the school. For example, see “Finals,” News and Observer, April 18, 1927; “Cary Celebrates 60th Anniversary,” News and Observer, April 3, 1931, “State Oldest High School,” News and Observer, March 30, 1940, and“Raleigh Residents Reflect on Influence of Cary School,” News and Observer, August 24, 1941.
14 Chsite (1923)
15 Thomas M. Byrd and Lisa Coston , “First Quarter Century, 1922-1946,” 9; The Chsite, 1916, 1923, and 1925.
16Quoted in Thomas M. Byrd and Lisa Coston , “Second Quarter Century, 1922-1946,” 9.
17 Chsite 1916 and 1923; News and Observer, April 22, 1927, April 3, 1931, September 11, 1941; Byrd and Coston, 9.
18 Byrd and Coston , “Second Quarter Century, 1922-1946,” 11; Oral histories of Cary High and Elementary.
19 Ibid., 12.
20 Ibid., 14, 16.
21 Byrd and Coston , “Third Quarter Century, 1947-1971,” 6.
22 Byrd and Coston , “Third Quarter Century, 1947-1971,” 7; Desegregating Cary, 139-170; Oral History interview with Gwendolyn Matthews, December 9, 1999, interview K-0654, Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007), Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
23 Desegregating Cary and Waters; News and Observer, August 31, 1960; Terence Hicks and Abul Pitre, editors, The Educational Lockout of African Americans in Prince Edward County, Virginia (1959-1964): Personal Accounts and Reflections (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2010); Rachel Martin, “Casting the Mythology: Remembering the Twelve Black Students Who Desegregated Clinton, Tennessee High School,” paper presented at the Triangle African American History Colloquium’s “Intersecting Identities in African American History and Culture Conference,” University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, February 18-19, 2011.
24 Lisa Coston, “New Day for Old Cary High,” clipping, 1A and 7A.