Monday, September 26, 2022

Over a year of no board action, ‘Annandale’ finally added to Topsail Elementary name

Topsail Elementary School will now be named Topsail Annandale Elementary School. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

PENDER COUNTY — A group of alumni and concerned citizens who have been pushing for the Pender County school board to memorialize their history, finally won a 16-month battle.

At its Tuesday meeting, the board unanimously approved changing the name of Topsail Elementary School to Topsail Annandale Elementary School, recognizing the first “modern” Black school in Pender County.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” former Pender County School board member and advocate Kenneth Keith told Port City Daily.

He said the feedback from the supporters has been “positive” following Tuesday’s vote and alumni have pledged to assist the school any way it can.

“They’re looking forward to getting together, to be helpful, provide extra support,” Keith said.

He added the elementary school is in the process of finding out what students need most, and the 60-plus group will help provide clothing, supplies and monetary donations to assist.

Annandale School opened in 1956 as the first modern educational facility in Pender County for Black students. It was considered an equalization school — “separate but equal” school, prior to integration, to provide better learning opportunities.

Board member Ken Smith, who has been advocating for the name change, said Tuesday alumni have been “waiting since 1969,” when the building closed and became Topsail Primary School.

“There will be a generation that will come after these men and women who have spoken to us, once they’ve gone on and leave this world, what will the next generation remember?” he asked. “Seeing that name Annandale, there was history there, something significant happened there.”

That significance is not lost on the students who attended the school. Many expressed it was the first time they received opportunities they never had.

Up until sixth grade when Pauline Moore Lewis went to Annandale, she attended a one-room schoolhouse, called the “Canetuck Rosenwald School,” part of a movement in the early 1900s where Sears, Roebuck and Co. president Julias Rosenwald provided matching grants for African American school construction. Located in Currie, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

There were no indoor bathrooms, one teacher for students in grades first through to sixth, and the building was made of wood.

Then Annandale School was built.

“Can you imagine how excited I was when I went to Annandale?” Lewis said to the Pender County Schools Board of Education in November. “There was a bathroom with running water, sinks, toilets, a water fountain in the hallway, a cafeteria where we could have hot meals.”

Alumni Francis Hansley Morrisey spoke about the “big yellow limo” she got to ride to school, instead of walking 1 mile each way, and also having a clean desk all to herself.

“We thought we were going somewhere,” she said at the November meeting. “We moved up in the world.”

The creation of the Annandale School was a pivotal turning point in education for Black students in Pender County. 

“It’s earned its history,” Minnie Hardison Kirkland said to board members in November. 

‘Something about a name’

In April 2021, alumni of the school started a petition to change Topsail Elementary School, to include the Annandale name. The original building still stands as a wing to the current facility. 

Residents James Hansley and Robert Garrison led the charge.

“There’s something about a name,” alumni Anna Toby Nixon said in November. 

The group advocating for the vote, also repeatedly asked for a sit-down with school board members to share their thoughts. They never got that chance.

A group of 60 petitioners approached former school board member and long-time educator Kenneth Keith. He proceeded to speak at nearly 14 school meetings to urge the board to take their request.

I was encouraging them to take a look, don’t ignore them,” Keith said. “They’re taxpayers, citizens of the community.”

The item first appeared on the board’s agenda in October 2021, but no action came from the board.

In February, board member Smith requested a historical marker be placed at Topsail Elementary School recognizing the significance of Annandale School.

“I believe it would be a step in the right direction,” he said, “recognizing that [history].”

After limited discussion, chair Brad George attempted to move the meeting along to the agenda item when Smith stopped him.

“Does the board want to do this?” Smith asked. “I don’t want this to be a one-man operation. What do you want to do? Now’s the time.”

No members spoke in support of the move and no action was taken.

Dr. Johnny Batts — a physicist who worked with NASA — addressed the board in April about the students who attended Annandale school and became “trailblazers.” Some pursued careers as doctors, engineers and NFL football players.

“It’s sort of like a miracle,” he said. “Those teachers and students had to perform and sort of make miracles out of nothing. And that they did.”

Batts added it would be “respectful” to acknowledge that success.

Also in April, Keith pleaded with the board to at least respond to the group.

“Ten months ago, Mr. Garrison sent a letter to the board,” he said. “Ten months and they’ve had no response from board members. What they’re asking for as a courtesy from each of you, if you don’t want it, tell them, but don’t stall it.”

“Silence is unacceptable,” he added.

It wasn’t until Tuesday the board voted on it. Smith made the motion to change the name to Topsail Annandale Elementary School. The school colors and mascot will remain the same.

Board member Fontana was concerned with school starting Aug. 29, there was no time to order a new sign and accompanying materials — such as letterhead and apparel — and requested patience as the board “gradually” worked through the process.

“I’m in full agreement of changing it, I just want us to be aware, there are lots of moving pieces to this,” she said.

Fontana referenced the C.F. Pope name change, added to the Burgaw Elementary School annex during her time as principal. Burgaw Elementary School was originally named CF Pope High School in 1952 but converted to Burgaw Elementary School when education was integrated in 1970.

Cicero Franklin Pope was an African American minister and principal in Pender County Schools for 38 years. An alumni group petitioned the school board to make that change two years ago and the board unanimously approved it in September 2020.

C.F. Pope Elementary School principal Stephen Buchanan explained Tuesday following the name change, administration worked to “use up” everything labeled Burgaw, which took about five months, before transitioning and ordering newly stamped supplies.

The cost to the board of education to replace Topsail Elementary School’s concrete sign and associated supplies is not yet known.

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