A historic African-American school in Pender County, dating from the segregation era, the Pender County Training School is a landmark in the Rocky Point area, off U.S. 117 at Rocky Point Training School Road.
The Training School was one of a number of “Rosenwald schools” in Pender County — schools for African-Americans built with support from the Rosenwald Fund, a charity founded in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald, who was president of Sears, Roebuck from 1908 to 1922.
Eventually two classroom buildings, a shop building and a teachers’ home were built on the PCTS campus with Rosenwald donations.
The school began in 1917, when local residents petitioned for a public school in their community. According to Pender County historian Mattie Bloodworth, land worth $1,250 was purchased for the school through the efforts of George Canady, Winslow Nixon and David Bryant Wood; a principal’s house was built on part of this property. Local residents also raised $400 to supplement county and Rosenwald funds for the new school.
The Rev. D.B. Mdodana was named the first principal, with his wife as the first teacher. Enrollment was so heavy — 218 pupils in the first grade alone — that Hattie V. Gattison and Margaret Mosely were added to the faculty within a few weeks. The school initially provided instruction in grades 1-7, with a six-month term.
As the name “Training School” implied, its curriculum followed the philosophy of Booker T. Washington, with an emphasis on vocational education and home economics. Singleton C. Anderson, from Hampton Institute, joined the faculty in the early 1920s as agriculture teacher. Anderson faced opposition from parents at first, and had no classroom, so he offered instruction at first under a large pine tree on campus. Eventually, he won over opponents, and vocational agriculture was offered in grades 3-6. Anderson’s students helped build several structures on campus, and Anderson eventually added a plant nursery and a small shed for fruit and vegetable canning. In 1946, he received an alumni of the year award from Hampton Institute.
Hugh Morton took several photos of Anderson teaching, which may be viewed at his Web site.
In 1923, Wilmington merchant D.L. Gore was invited to give a commencement address at the school. He was so impressed with what he found that he donated 10 additional acres of land to the school later that year.
In 1926, high school grades were added, making the training school one of only two high schools for African-Americans in Pender County. A second classroom building was added that year; the school acquired buses, and it began to draw students from across the county. According to educator-historian Claudia Stack, students often set off for school before dawn, traveling in buses that were standing-room only, or even in the back of trucks.
Stack says the school was accredited in 1926. Bloodworth writes that high school accreditation came in 1929. By 1926, the school had 11 teachers and 349 students. By World War II, it had eight buildings, 21 teachers and an enrollment of more than 600. The school quickly became a community center, with plays, concerts and movies given in the gymtorium.
In 1929, the school consolidated with an older school in Mooretown, a black community about a mile away. In 1931, Mooretown residents demolished their schoolhouse, which had stood since Reconstruction, and used the materials to help build the training school’s new shop building.
Eventually redesignated an elementary school, the school campus remained in use by the Pender public school system until desegregation in the 1960s.
Claudia Stack, a veteran educator, is preparing a documentary film, “Under the Kudzu,” about the Pender County Training School and other Rosenwald schools in the county, and she is compiling a Web site an online archive.
Date posted: October 9, 2009
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