Alumni of the old Sampson High School in Clinton want to restore the worn-down facility and remake it into a community resource center, all while celebrating its history as a Rosenwald school and status as an importance landmark in this county.
Next month, the Sampson High School Alumni Association (SHSAA) Inc.’s Phase Two Committee, in conjunction with the City of Clinton and the Clinton Historic Preservation Commission, will sponsor a half-day free event aptly-entitled “Importance of Place Workshop: ‘Ole’ Sampson School Matters.”
The workshop will extend from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Sampson Center Gym on Barden Street, Clinton. All are invited to attend.
“The committee’s desire by having this half-day workshop is to provide information about the SHSAA Inc. as a whole, and to shine a spotlight upon the importance of preserving the Sampson School, a Rosenwald School,” said Rose Williams Linen, chairwoman of the Phase Two Committee.
Clinton-Sampson Planning director Mary Rose said it is hoped the workshop, during which many speakers will provide history on Sampson School and Rosenwald, will “spur neighborhood revitalization and community development” as well as educate citizens about the school. She wants the workshop to the first of many highlighting important places within the community.
The old Sampson School, located at 615 McKoy St., Clinton, was purchased by the SHSAA Inc. in 1986 from Sampson County for $57,750 with the intention to preserve and utilize it for a meaningful purpose. Phase One in 1999 saw the renovation of one of the school buildings into eight-unit apartments to provide housing to low-income individuals. Phase Two will include renovating and rehabilitating the school into a community resource center.
That goal has been discussed in detail in recent years. To that end, areas of lead paint and asbestos have already been identified and removed from the building, notably the on-site cafeteria.
“It was also realized just a year or so ago that the school is a Rosenwald School, which is a most prestigious designation,” Linen said.
A Rosenwald School is one whose construction was aided by funds provided by Julius Rosenwald, an American clothier who became part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. Rosenwald was the founder of The Rosenwald Fund, which provided assistance amid chronic under-funding of public education for African-American children in the South, a disenfranchised populous required to attend segregated schools.
African-American leader Booker T. Washington shared with Rosenwald the plight of young children in the South and convinced him to contribute seed money for the “Rosenwald” schools.
There were about 5,300 Rosenwald Schools built in 15 states, with more than 800 established in North Carolina alone, more than any other state. Sampson County had five of those schools: Garland, White Oak and Sampson School, as well as Snow Hill School and Roseboro Colored School, which would later become Charles E. Perry. An inaugural dinner was held earlier this month at Charles E. Perry to celebrate graduates and the school’s Rosenwald history.
Sampson High School’s alumni want to do the same.
“It is not only essential for the SHSAA, Inc. to preserve this very important part of history, but imperative that we do so,” Linen attested, “as there are only a fraction of these schools that remain due to demolition, disrepair or destruction.”
The Phase Two Committee sponsored a clean up day in April. The project, spearheaded by the Committee’s Finance Subcommittee Co-chair Maggie Williams, garnered assistance from Tarheel ChalleNGe cadets. The cadets, in this case a group specifically made up of teenage girls who used the opportunity as one of their service projects, cleaned the main building’s kitchen/meeting room and toilets and replaced light bulbs. Additionally, they spruced up the campus’ front yard and the front of the cafeteria, as well as the main building’s porch and sidewalk.
“Everything sparkled after the cadets completed their tasks,” said Linen.
Williams was extremely pleased with their work, thanking Tarheel ChalleNGe the cadets for their “industriousness.”
Now, through the upcoming workshop, the Sampson alumni wish to impart the importance of the once-bustling facility on McKoy Street so that it might be the site of sweeping rehabilitation and restoration that will see it preserved and useful again.
At the Aug. 13 event, SHSAA President Faye Faison and Mayor Lew Starling will give remarks and a panel discussion will be held on the history of Sampson High School. That talk will include SHSAA life member/organizer Dr. Jesse Williams and Scholarship Chair Mary Sutton. Claudia Brown with the N.C. State Historic Preservation Office will offer a history lesson about Rosenwald Schools and Rose will also offer comments.
Rose said she hopes next month’s workshop will be the catalyst for other similar partnerships in the community.
“This workshop partnership came about through a desire on the part of the City of Clinton and the Clinton Historic Preservation Commission to partner with groups such as the Sampson Alumni to hold ‘Importance of Place’ workshops throughout our community in order to spur neighborhood revitalization and community development as well as educate our citizens concerning the history and importance of different places within our community,” she stated.
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