Hillsborough, NC – When the Class of 1968 marched down the aisle to get their diplomas, they were the last group of students to graduate from Central High School, the school for Black youth of Orange County, located in Hillsborough, NC. After this, children of color would attend Orange High School, which formerly had been the school for white students.
On Sunday, May 20, 2018 from 2 pm – 5 pm, Free Spirit Freedom and the Central/Orange Alumni Association will host a gospel concert to celebrate the 50th Reunion of the Class of 1968, and the toppling of the walls of segregation in public education. The event will be held at the outdoor Farmer’s Market Pavilion, 144 E. Margaret Lane, Hillsborough. Music and some seating will be provided. Bring lawn chairs and shading. Free refreshments sponsored by the Orange County Visitors Bureau.
Prior to 1968, African American students were educated in separate schools than white students. In Hillsborough, Central High School served the entire county’s African American community. The same building that housed this important chapter in Orange County’s African American history now houses a new group of students as Hillsborough Elementary School. Efforts that are being made now will ensure that the community does not forget the students that first walked those halls.
The following information is collected from the efforts of Dr. Iris Chapman of the Central High School Reunion Committee for the first all-classes reunion in 2008.
Hillsborough High School for Negroes
Central High School, initially known as Hillsborough High School for Negroes, was built in the 1930s on land that was purchased from Mr. Lois Wilson and Mr. George Mayo for approximately $2,200.00. The twelve-room school opened with Mr. C.E. Hester as its first principal. Despite being called a high school, from its inception the school served students from the 1st through the 11th grade. While most of the students were from Hillsborough proper, some of the black students from Cedar Grove and Efland who lived as far as fifteen miles away also attended. In addition to the 11 grade classes, a private kindergarten was taught in the library by Mrs. Agnes Whitted.
Sizes of the beginning classes in the late 30s and early 40s were quite small. As late as 1944-45, the year before the addition of the 12th grade, there were only thirty-two graduates; fourteen boys and nineteen girls. Only one male, however, was in the first 12th grade graduating class with twelve girls. In 1949-50 there were 35 graduates. One hundred and two first-year students began the 1952 school year, but by their graduation date in 1956, only 59 graduated. Considering the challenges faced by the students during these years, the amount of absenteeism and drop outs is understandable. Many students had to walk miles to get to school, some were bussed all across the county, and crops demanded the farm students’ time for planting and harvesting. It is clear, however, that by the late 50s and early 60s, blacks were willing to get an education regardless of sacrifices.
Students from the 1930s remember that the all-black Hillsborough High had no gym so all of its basketball games were played at the white schools. After the basketball games; however, both black teams would come back to the school for refreshments, and the older female students served them. The School offered many of the same basic core course that are found in schools today including English literature, science, math, and even physics.
Principal Stanback and Central High School
When Principal Hester resigned in 1942, the Orange County School Board hired Mr. Albert Leon Stanback. Mr. Stanback had been working at the school since 1939 as a math teacher and a coach. Students remember that Stanback’s teams “were feared by all neighboring schools, and they always ended the season as district champions.” In 1943, under Mr. Stanback’s influence, Hillsborough High School for Negroes, received its new name, Central High School.
Mr. Stanback petitioned the school board for a new elementary school because of over-crowding. Together, they planned it for the Carr Community in Cedar Grove and named it Cedar Grove Elementary. It operated until integration, closing its doors in the 1960s. Blacks of Northern Orange in Cedar Grove appealed continually to keep the school opened, but they were unsuccessful. In the early 70s the United Cedar Grove Development Club was formed and managed to gain access and use of the school. Since that time the school has served the community in a variety of ways.
Central High PTA
Under Mr. Stanback’s administration from 1942-1964, there were several accomplishments, many of which would not have been possible without the help of the Central High School’s Parent Teacher Association. The quasi-school board endeavored to meet the needs of the Central High students.
Minutes from the Central High PTA from 1954 – 1968 mention a plethora of projects and programs initiated by Mr. Stanback and the PTA. Several projects include the following:
- In 1938 the PTA salvaged an old building from Camp Butner, NC, to become the band room and the agricultural department.
- The PTA helped to get better roads to make traveling in and around the school easier.
- In 1946 the PTA made requests and secured funding to get better lighting in the lunchroom.
- In 1948 a bid for a library was passed, but the mandate for getting it done fell to the PTA and other community agencies, and once built, it was the PTA who manned the library three times a week so that it could be opened for the black community.
- The PTA purchased Glee Club and band uniforms for students who didn’t have the funds.
- Perhaps the largest gift to Central was the new activity bus, which was purchased in 1967 at a cost of $5,300.
Central High Loss and Rebirth
In 1958, the main building, the office, auditorium and several classrooms burned down, and from the ashes of the old Central, a young and beautiful one emerged in the 1960s.
Mr. Stanback died in March 1964, and a May Memorial service was held to honor him. Students stated that that was the saddest day of all for them. The faculty and staff at Central High, including the black and white communities, mourned his loss, for the school had been a beacon, not only in the lives of the students, bit the surrounding communities of Orange County as well.
The News of Orange paid tribute to Mr. Stanback on Thursday, March 26, 1964.
He loved life and always met people with a smile. He had courage to stand against odds for what he thought was right. The level of achievement to which Negro citizens of Orange County are able to rise in the near future will live as a testimonial to his teaching and his leadership.
Following Mr. Stanback’s death, Mr. Willie Blue served as interim principal until Mr. James M. Murfee was hired for the position. Murfee remained principal until 1969. From 1969-71, Mr. Wiley Shearin was principal; followed by T. Lindsay Tapp.
During Mr. Murfee’s tenure, the school that housed third and fourth graders was re-named A.L. Stanback Elementary School in honor of Mr. Stanback. With the advent of the middle-school concept, in 1975 A. L. Stanback Elementary became A.L. Stanback Middle School and the sixth and seventh grades attended there. The new A.L. Stanback Middle, located at 3700 NC Highway 86, was dedicated again to Mr. A.L. Stanback (with his family present) on April 26, 1996.
The Class of 1968 was the last class to graduate from Central High School. Black high-school students in the district attended, from them on, Orange High School. Both High Schools, as well as the whole town of Hillsborough, underwent much turmoil during the desegregation years.
Initially, some of the black students fought against integration, but later they fought for their rights to integrate the halls of Orange High and to be fairly treated in their new environment. Seniors from the Class of ’68 rose to the challenge of their day and organized marches, rallies and other non-violent protests, as well as bringing in speakers such as Howard Fuller and Ben Ruffin to address the issues and provide direction.
Their Black counterparts at Orange High School marched with them to show solidarity even though protesting jeopardized their new student status at school. They recall teachers such as Mr. Caleb Moore leading a peaceful non-violent march down town Hillsborough after the assassination of Dr. King and the rallies at McPherson’s ballpark, which was the only venue large enough to hold the groups at that time.
During the year of integration, 1969, four men from Central High School, Roosevelt Chavious, Fred Chavious, Johnnie Crump, and Calvin Wade, led the county to the state basketball championship, and I think that this accomplishment did more for smoothing tensions than anything else. ~ Coach Richard Lyons
Central High School provided nurturing and knowledge for its citizens for 40 years, and produced some of the finest men and women anywhere: teachers, college professors, engineers, technicians, mechanics, computer bankers, accountants, business professionals, bishops, health personnel, hospital and postal administrators, sales reps, writers, news reporters, managers, political candidates, and a national sports figure.
Source: Orange County History