Aug. 20--SNOW HILL -- The first black high school in Greene County still stands today.
The Snow Hill Colored High School was once a thriving educational center for African-American students and was originally constructed to teach grades one through 11.
The brick building was one of five schools constructed in Greene County through the Julius Rosenwald Fund, as well as local contributions.
Built in 1925, the six-room Rosenwald school was just a part of the campus that later became known as the Greene County Training School and eventually South Greene High School. About the late 1940s, it was the only black school in the county that taught up through 12th grade.
The property was deeded to Lenoir Community College by the county in September 1999 when LCC built its satelite campus in Greene County. The site includes the Rosenwald School building, the larger two-story building with gymnasium and ball park, which is leased to the town of Snow Hill.
LCC officials have plans to renovate the 12,160-square-foot building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and turn it into a Workforce Development Center.
The plan includes maintaining its historic architecture.
"We want to take the Rosenwald building and put it back into a condition to make it an asset to the community," Briley said, "and do the right thing."
The center would include a resource library and teaching basic skills, such as resume writing, that would enable people to become qualified for hiring.
Priorities are rewiring the electrical, updating the plumbing and eliminating any other safety issues. Walls, floors, ceilings and windows need repairing and the building needs a new heating, air-conditioning and ventilation system, Briley said.
Briley said the N.C. General Statutes require that any renovations to the building be funded through sources other than state money.
"Of course Greene County funds are limited," he said, "so we started looking at alternatives."
Lowe's provided funds a few years back to make the building "weather-tight," Briley said.
The Greene County Training School/South Greene High School alumni are assisting the LCC Foundation with fundraising efforts.
"They have committed $10,000 of seed money," Briley said.
That money could provide a match for the minimum $250,000 Briley said he estimates the renovation costs to be.
Donations of any amount are welcomed, and significant donors could have portions of the building named after them.
For more than 20 years, William Warren rented the facility for his textile factory -- WMMT Manufacturing Company, which made infant and children's clothing. Warren was asked to leave the building early this year because of health and safety reasons, including outdated electrical, Briley said.
"What prompted us to asking Williams to move out," he said, "was a letter from an inspection done by our insurance carrier. ... And so at that point, I felt like the college had been put on notice and should not allow people to continue to occupy the building until we could take care of the health and safety issues."
Briley said it would be a liability, but also the "right thing to do," to discontinue the lease with the tenant.
Warren moved his business to another location on West Harper Street, but is no longer making textiles. He declined to comment to The Free Press.
"As much we loved William, as much as he was good for us and we were good for him," Briley said, "I felt like we had to ask him to move. The building is sitting there vacant until we can secure funding, hopefully from some kind of grant."
Before Greene Central was built and before de-segregation, black students attended small elementary schools up to about seventh grade. Many continued on to eighth grade at the Rosenwald school, and later to the larger building for high school classes.
Joan Atkinston of Snow Hill attended eighth grade at Greene County Training School in 1957.
"That (Rosenwald) building is important to us," she said, "because leaving the rural area in the county and being able to come to school, I guess we felt like we arrived."
Michelle Giles graduated from South Greene High School in 1969, the last graduating class. Her mother had been a teacher from about 1946-1968.
Giles said the school prepared her academically and socially for the real world.
"That was, to me, like the educational hub," she said, "-- education for black people in Greene County. ... For me, it was like a mecca."
By then, the school had undergone numerous transitions, including an addition to the building. But it was always the poor sister to the white schools.
"Our books were older; our equipment was older," Giles said about the black school. "Many times our instructors had to go into their pockets to pull together to make sure we had adequate materials. It was a different time."
Margaret Fisher can be reached at 252-559-1082 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @MargaretFishr.
To donate to Lenoir Community College's renovation fund for the former Rosenwald School, call Jeanne Kennedy of the LCC Foundation at 252-233-6812
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