Janice Boykin Rayner was excited to see black and white photos of her classmates. With a smile, she pointed at her own picture from Sampson High School’s class of 1967.
“This was a good time,” she said. “You’re 17 and you have your whole life ahead of you. Just looking at the picture makes you feel good.”
The Sampson County native was one of many who attended the 44th annual reunion for the Sampson High School Alumni Association (SHSAA). It brought graduates from all over the country. Highlights from the weekend included the announcement of a $1 million scholarship endowment fund and a workshop focused on restoring the site for the community’s use.
Along with reuniting with her classmates for a 50th anniversary in 2017, Rayner says she plans to contribute to the endowment to help students pay for college. A presentation was made during a Saturday evening banquet at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center.
“We need money to go to school,” Rayner said. “We know some children are going to have someone to help and some are not. This is a good program to help them.”
Officials plan to begin a marketing campaign for the endowment in September by mailing brochures to Clinton residents. They hope to gain support from businesses as well. The goal is to reach $1 million in two years.
Graduates and supporters of Sampson High School are also looking forward to refurbishing the old grounds to build a community center.
With assistance from the City of Clinton and the Clinton Historic Preservation Commission, the alumni association hosted a free workshop, “Importance of Place Workshop: ‘Ole’ Sampson School Matters” at the Sampson Center Gym. Its purpose was to provide history of the school and the importance of preserving the school, which educated black students during the days of segregation.
Located at 615 McKoy St. in Clinton, the educational institute was established with money provided by Julius Rosenwald, co-owner and and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company. His foundation, The Rosenwald Fund, provided seed money to communities throughout the South to build schools. In the early 1900s, Rosenwald was convinced by African-American leader Booker T. Washington to do so.
“Today, over 100 years, here we are with a common vision to preserve this institute, Sampson High School, to serve as a community center and be flexible to the use of our community,” said SHSAA President Faye Faison. “I’m overwhelmed of the diversity of those who’ve shown support and commitment to this project.”
Claudia Brown of the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office provided a detailed history of Rosenwald Schools. There were about 5,300 built in 15 states. With 800, North Carolina had more than any other state. While presenting schools throughout the state, Brown said the Sampson High site had wonderful space and could be put to good use.
“Just as the construction of these schools drew African-American communities closer together, the rehabilitation of these schools through historic preservation efforts is continuing to contribute to community revitalization today,” Brown said.
Like Faison, Clinton-Sampson Planning Director Mary Rose also stressed the importance of everyone coming together to make it a reality. During her involvement, Rose said she was inspired.
“It’s going to take the efforts of every single person in this auditorium to move this project forward,” Rose said. “We got to work together to make things happen and I truly believe in that.”
SHSAA purchased the school in 1986 for more than $57,000 so it could be put to use. For the first phase, one of the school buildings was renovated into apartments to provide housing for low-income tenants. The next will include the community resource center aspect.
Clinton Mayor Lew Starling said preservation projects mean so much to the city while talking about how it’s being put to good use.
“But most importantly, we think it’s important to preserve the history of this city,” Starling said about the area.
Talks about the importance of the area’s history continued when Dr. Jesse Williams, SHSAA Life Member and Association Organizer, thanked Sampson High for making him the man he is today. After earning several degrees, he served 25 years as the health director of the Cumberland County Health Department, before retiring in 2000.
Scholarship Chair Mary Sutton expressed how the organization enjoys helping high school students through its scholarship program. To date, $423,000 has been donated to more than 200 students. Currently, more than a dozen are still in the program.
“We are pleased that you have decided to invest in us, because rather you believe it or not, it does take a village,” Sutton said to city officials in attendance. “It took a village then, but now, it’s like we got the whole city.”
Phase I Chair Robert Bennett said it was a great to look back at what they accomplished and to look forward to what they can accomplish. Phase II Chair Rose Williams Linen said some the ideas for the center was to have computer training classes financial classes and community storm site. She urged residents to contact them for ideas, while talking about her passion for the old school.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the construction of this school and seeing this school survive,” Linen said. “We don’t want it to die. We want it to continue own and we want to give back to the community. That’s where our passion derives from.”
For more information visit www.sampsonalumni.org.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.