Sign commemorates Price High School

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2011

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — Katherine Smith posed with her goddaughter, Patricia Jones Ricks, under the new marker signifying that J.C. Price High School is a national historic property.
It was a proud moment for Smith, Ricks and all Price High alumni who attended the marker’s unveiling early Saturday afternoon in front of the old school, which served as Salisbury’s public high school for African-Americans from 1932 to 1969.
Smith lives within sight of the West Bank Street property, and even though she’s now 91, this member of the Class of 1939 still drives by the old building almost every day.
“My best days were spent right in there,” Smith said from the school’s front lawn. On the pinky of her right hand, she wore her class ring from 1939.
“Most of my classmates have gone and left me,” she lamented.
Ricks has moved back to Salisbury after a long teaching career elsewhere. She serves on the Salisbury Planning Board and still does contract work as a drug counselor.
“I got my foundation here,” Ricks said of Price High, from where she graduated in 1962. Her love of education and people sprang from her days at Price, she added.
Salisbury’s Barbara Gaul, Class of 1958 and outgoing president of the Price National Alumni Association, said the marker project proved more difficult to complete than one might expect. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places April 21, 2010.
What should the marker say? How wide and tall should it be? How big should the lettering be?
Price alumni chapters from numerous states sent in their suggestion for text.
“It had to be condensed and condensed,” Gaul said.
Alumni officials finally decided that the marker must be straightforward and accomplish three things: Give the full name of the school; give its dates as a high school and when the property was added to the National Register; and include a brief passage that speaks of the school’s legacy for its students and the community.
That passage says, “A school of great heritage and academic success in times of repression.”
“We all know what that means,” Gaul said.
The alumni recalled cleaning up their used textbooks and how their teachers had to be creative in finding the teaching tools they needed. There were second-hand band and football uniforms. The band director sometimes had to hold practices in his living room.
The alumni here for the weekend’s annual reunion spoke fondly of their teachers, such as English teacher Abna Aggrey Lancaster and her husband, Spencer Lancaster, who coached and taught math and science; Elizabeth Duncan Koontz, who became a top national education official; and English and French teacher and Principal O.C. Hall.
In addition to academics, the faculty taught students about respect, pride, love and work, Gaul said. “Our teachers were our second parents,” she added, “and our school was an extension of our homes.”
The sentence at the bottom of the history marker may seem brief, “but it says a lot,” Gaul said. “Every word has meaning.”
Raemi Evans and her husband, Fred, are 1957 graduates of Price High. Raemi Evans’ parents were Abna and Spencer Lancaster. Evans said she was personally proud of the marker, “and I’m sure my parents would be overwhelmed with it.”
Along with Smith, one of the older alumni present was Eddie Marie Davis White, a member of the Class of 1946. She was a guard on the women’s basketball team, White recalled, and won a $100 scholarship at Price High to attend Livingstone College as a freshman.
“Last year, I was the only one from the Class of 1946 there,” White said.
Though she’s 82, White intended to dance at the Holiday Inn dinner Saturday night “and get the soul train line going,” she said.
David Hancock, former national alumni president from Somers, N.Y., was among the youngest students in the Class of 1948.
“The academics I can’t talk much about because I wasn’t the greatest student,” said Hancock, who built a graphics design and printing business. But he said he could speak to Price High School’s solid faculty, coaches and the camaraderie among students, he said.
Hancock and classmate Virginia Pharr Wilson of Salisbury said they appreciate being able to come back to the school, move through the halls and see the rooms where their favorite teachers taught.
Wilson, who has served as the association’s historian, built a career as a high school administrator in Michigan after she left Salisbury. She returned here to live 21 years ago and has restored her grandfather’s 1914 house on Locke Street.
Kathleen Perdue of Cleveland, Ohio, has been elected as alumni president to replace Gaul. Thomas Morgan of Salisbury will be the new vice president.
Salisbury Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said many of the alumni at the old school Saturday represented “many of our community leaders.”
Celebrating the new marker was not only a good day for the old Price High, Blackwell said, but a good day for the city.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.