BACK ROW STANDING:
M. Keyes, Dolie Keyes,
Annie Beebe, Isolel Field,
B. Richardson, Louvenia Hudson
I. Saunders, J.W. Mask (Principal) and A. G. Davis.
My Time. My Story.
“My time my Story" will take you back to the early and mid 1900's. In those days, it was difficult for African American parents to educate their children because people of color were not allowed in public libraries, public parks and other places reserved for whites only. But in 1915, faith and friendship came together for one defining moment and it changed the chorus of history.
Two giant men Dr. Booker T. Washington, Founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, met with his close friend Julius Rosenwald, the wealthy C.E.O. of Sears, Roebuck and Company. During the meeting, Dr. Washington made an appeal to Rosenwald to donate a small portion of his fortune to help build public schools in Black communities.
Rosenwald agreed to establish a fund to build schools, predominately in the rural South, but it would require Community involvement. His first requirement matching funds would be mandatory, and secondly the Community would have to purchase a minimum of two acres of land to be used as school property.
Black leaders in and around Washington, NC responded by contributing the required funds and donated land to build the River Road School. Those leaders included Zeno King Sr., Matthew Graddy Sr., George Bailey Sr. and others. The school was built approximately 100 ft. adjacent to Mt Olive A.M.E. Zion Church on Asbury Church Road.
According to Dr. Peter Ascoli, grandson of Rosenwald, more than 800 Rosenwald schools were built in North Carolina between 1917 and 1932. Six were built in Beaufort County: (1) in Leachville (1) in Bath, (2) in Pantego, (1) in Blount's Creek and (1) in Washington - the River Road School.
A standard structure included 2 classrooms and a large cloakroom. The schools had 2 teachers. One taught grades 1-3, and the other one taught grades 4-7. The River Road School was equipped with an iron stove to heat the two rooms. The stove burned coal or wood. Most of the wood came from limbs that fell from trees near the building. A retractable partition separated the two rooms. Due to the absence of electricity, River Road School did not have running water or indoor toilets.
From the 1930's to the late 1940's, white students rode the public school bus to school; Black students walked. Some walked 4 miles or more (one way). Can you imagine your six or seven years old child walking 8 miles every day? Today that would be considered child abuse.
Students attending the River Road School came from Bunyan (renamed Harding's Village), The Neck (now now known as the Magnolia School Road Community), Wooten Town, River Road and Keyesville. My grandparents lived in a small settlement called The Brickyard. The Brickyard was located 2 miles on the other side of Harding's Village. Their children walked more than 4 miles (one way) to school.
During the 1930's to the late 1950's, Asbury Church Road was an unpaved dirt road. I remember on many occasions, especially on rainy days, the person driving the white kids to school would deliberately drive through large poodles of water, and we had to take cover on the ditch bank to avoid the showers of muddy water. In those days, learning was a privilege and pleasure. It appears that somewhere along the way Education has lost its value.
In the spring of 1952, classes at the River Road School were discontinued. The students were transferred to the old Washington Colored School on Bridge Street in Washington. In 1975 the Trustees of Mt. Olive Church purchased the school property and most of the building materials were used to build the kitchen and 2 bathrooms.
To our marvelous youth, I submit to you that experience has given me the wisdom, and age has given me the urgency to tell you this. Today, you are going through open doors and you don't know how or why they opened. You need to know about the barriers and stumbling blocks your grandparents, great grandparents, uncles, and aunts, nieces, nephews and cousins had to endure to have the opportunity to learn to read and write. They gave their tomorrows so we could have our todays. But there is good news. They acknowledged the power of prayer and God, used their setbacks as a setup for a comeback, and God turned their stumbling blocks into stepping stones and they prevailed. I respectfully share this with you because information without circulation breeds stagnation. Knowledge is power but you must prepare, pursue and perform. Let this be our purpose and prayer.
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