Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2012
By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Charlotte Wheeler was all smiles as she walked up the steps to her alma mater, the former J.C. Price High School at 1300 W. Bank St.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said, opening the front door and walking inside, where a cluster of alumni and friends were pointing to portraits of the school’s graduating classes.
Laughing and smiling, they pointed and called out the names of classmates.
They pulled out phones and cameras to take pictures of their pictures.
“This is my first time back here since 1965,” Wheeler said. “May 30, 1965, to be exact.”
Then, Wheeler said, she was getting ready to go to New York to work.
After working there and on Martha’s Vineyard, Wheeler came back to North Carolina and enrolled at North Carolina College at Durham, now N.C. Central University.
She’s lived in Salisbury since 2009, and has been a member of her high school’s National Alumni Association.
“Price High School holds such rich memories for me,” she said.
The teachers instilled a good work ethic, she said, “and prepared us to go out into the world.”
But before Saturday, she had never returned to the schoolhouse.
Alumni filled the hallways, peered into classrooms and the auditorium, and shared memories.
Saturday was a full day of events for alumni, starting with a prayer breakfast in the morning, followed by a 1 p.m. visit to Salisbury High School, a short distance away.
Waiting for them there was a tribute, unveiled by Principal Windsor Eagle.
Eagle, who is days away from retiring after 31 years as principal at Salisbury High, led about 40 alumni, friends and family members to a hallway outside the auditorium.
He spoke of the traditions that were mingled when Price High and Boyden High were integrated in 1970.
Price High’s Red Devils wore red and black. Boyden’s colors were black and gold.
Pulling aside a carpet, Eagle unveiled a mosaic tile tribute set into the floor, commemorating the two schools that merged to form Salisbury High.
Eagle said that this marker will be a history lesson for the hundreds of students who’ll pass by the spot every day.
“I want them to know where they came from,” Eagle said.
In turn, members presented Eagle with a plaque commemorating his years of service and his efforts to celebrate the memories of Price High School.
Ella Woods, a language arts teacher and member of Price High’s class of ‘66, said the tribute was touching.
“I’ve been teaching in Rowan-Salisbury for 35 years. I taught summer school here,” Woods said.
“It shows how he feels as principal, that (Price) is part of the city of Salisbury,” said Robert Ervin, a member of the class of ‘58 who traveled from Maryland to attend. “And I definitely appreciate it.”
But Eagle told the Post the tribute wasn’t about his legacy as principal.
“I see it as a historical monument. For our children and great grandchildren … It’s a historical reminder every day,” he said.
Kitty Perdue, president of the National Alumni Association, now lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
She said that one of the highlights of the weekend was getting alumni to see the historical marker installed at last June’s reunion, adding Price High to the historic register.
The challenge going forward will be preserving their school’s history and getting a new generation involved.
That’s why the association allows friends and family members to join.
“They have heard of what we are doing, and they want to become a part of it,” Perdue said.
About 25 children and grandchildren of graduates, plus some other friends of Price High, have joined, said Carolyn Williams, local chapter president.
In the hallway of the former Price High — which now houses Head Start and other educational programs — Doris P. Jones stood next to a portrait of her husband, the late Walter G. Jones.
The Livingstone College alumnus was principal of Price High during the early and mid-1960s.
Asked what her husband would think of the interest being shown by alumni, Jones replied, “He would say it’s been a long time coming.”
“We should have been priming (graduates) at a much earlier age to become involved,” Jones said.
In her remarks at Saturday’s prayer breakfast, Jones said she told audience members “that the young people will be intrigued at what their parents and grandparents did.”
And, in turn, they will become involved with their friends and peers.
“They can get their roots from right here,” Williams said, as alumni moved around tables full of pictures, news clippings and literature on the history of Price High.
“This will let them see where we’ve come from, what we had to go through. They can follow in our footsteps and carry on.”
And some already are doing so.
Deja Morgan-Spann, of Wendell, officially joined the association in 2011.
She is the daughter of incoming National Alumni Association President Thomas Morgan.
“So often, African-American history is just forgotten,” she said.
But in the year since she became a member, she said, she’s rediscovered former acquaintances, including a woman who babysat her when she was small.
“Honestly, being with the group, it’s more of a homecoming,” she said. “You’re receiving history from others that you weren’t aware of.”
In turn, she plans to start using Facebook and other online tools to help recruit.
Derrick Rippy, son of Luvenia Coleman Rippy and James Rippy, has been coming to events for most of his adult life.
“It has a special meaning to me,” Derrick said. “I’m an attorney, and in Constitutional Law we covered all the segregation cases.”
Now that he can put that era and those struggles into perspective, he appreciates his history more.
“Talking to my parents, they’ve gone through the kind of things they’ve taught us in law school”
And now, Derrick said, his 20-year-old daughter is preparing to go to law school.
Will she join the Price Alumni Association?
“Maybe so,” Derrick said.
If and when she does, she’s apt to find a lot of memories waiting for her — not just inside the walls of Price High School, but in the memories and stories of those who attended, in a time that is fast becoming a part of history.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.