Asheboro Colored Graded School

Written By Mac Whatley

At the southwest corner of Central School, now known as “East Side Homes,” is a marble stone that predates the 1926 construction of Asheboro’s oldest existing African American school.

The reuse of the “Asheboro/Colored Graded School/1911″ stone marked not only the community’s joy in the new school, but its pride in its earlier, first school. The stone was  re-installed as the cornerstone of the 1926 building in a ceremony conducted by Zacharias Franks and other members of the Odd Fellows fraternal order. Mr. Franks was a brick mason and one of the first residents of “Moffitt Heights,” where Frank Street continues to bear a shortened version of his name.

Before the Civil War, North Carolina law prohibited the education of black children, but the Constitution of 1868 mandated free schools for all children between ages 6 to 21. Even before the second constitution of North Carolina was drafted, Freedmen’s Schools were conducted in several places in the county, such as Middleton Academy between Cedar Falls and Franklinville.

It is unclear what kind of serious funding black education received in Randolph County in the late-nineteenth century. The only real reference to the subject is in Sidney Swaim Robins’s 1972 autobiography “Sketches of My Asheboro,” in which he recounts his family’s friendship with William Ernest Mead. Mead, a native of Brooklyn, New York, was hired to serve as the principal of the black school in Asheboro. Mead, only 20 years old, arrived around 1882 to teach and run the school “as a sort of Quaker missionary” (p. 25).

According to Robins, the school was located on ” the Oaky Mountain Road… after you started down the red lane from the old courthouse [intersection of Salisbury and Main streets], crossed the wet weather brook on a low plant-bridge, and passed the Colored schoolhouse half way up the first rise to where the lane leveled off” (p. 44). Robins left Asheboro for Harvard in 1900, so his memory considerably predates the 1911 date on the preserved cornerstone date. The exact location of the school is shown on part of a map for “Beechwood” subdivision, developed in 1936. Lots 1 through 5 fronting on Brookside Drive include part of the school grounds; a later hand has drawn the outline of a building facing Old North Main Street just north of lots 1 and 2, on adjoining property labeled “School Lot” (see Plat Book 1, Page 289). So the site of the school can be found approximately at the present location of 309- 310 North Main Street.

The Colored Graded School was a public school established under the school improvement movement pushed by Governor Charles B. Aycock. The “Asheboro Graded School Trustees” in 1909 built a grand brick Graded School for white students on the old Male Academy lot on South Fayetteville Street (later named Fayetteville Street School), then later in 1911 the four-room frame school on old North Main Street that older residents still remember.

Ruth McCrae, a long-time teacher in the Asheboro City School system, was a student in the 1911 school. She told historian Tom Hanchett, who prepared the nomination of Central School to the National Register of Historic Places, that “On the January day when the building was completed, students from the old Asheboro Colored School on Greensboro Road marched triumphantly down the hill to the new facility, each carrying a chair from the old building” (NR nomination, p. 5). McCrae also vividly recalled: “We weren’t out of that building but three months—March—when the wind blew that school down! Just completely flattened it! There was nothing standing!”