In days of segregation, they were kids who found ‘nurturing environment’ at old Granite Quarry/Shuford School

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2013

GRANITE QUARRY — When they walk through the halls today, former students of the Granite Quarry/Shuford Memorial School still smell the hot, homemade rolls that were baked for lunch.
They hear one of their teachers, Miss Bessie Craige, playing the baby grand piano in the school auditorium.
They’re giggling again around the Maypole, or reciting President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address from memory.
Shuford Memorial School, once called Granite Quarry Colored School, closed in 1968 with the pending, full integration of Rowan County Schools.
For many years, the school building served as a satellite facility for Rowan Vocational Workshop. Today the old granite school, which dates to 1934, is well taken care of on its site off Dunn’s Mountain Road.
It has become home for owner Johnny Morgan’s Grateful Heart Ministries, which includes a food bank and services for the homeless.
Former students of Shuford Memorial School have gathered for a reunion on Easter weekends every other year since 1987. The next reunion — the 14th — is being held March 29-30, with most of the activities at the Geneva Oglesby Recreation Center across the street.
Granite Quarry/Shuford students and their parents treasured the late Oglesby as a teacher and civic leader.
On a recent winter’s day, with sun pouring through the windows, several alumni of the old school walked down the halls, whose neatly varnished hardwood floors resonated with every step.
They stopped for the longest period in the entrance hall, where a wall was filled with photographs of former teachers, principals and staff.
Maybe the best known person on the wall was Rose D. Aggrey, who retired in 1952 after 23 years as a teacher and principal.
The former students also pointed to teacher Portia Barfield, who recently died at the age of 102. Other photographs included Oglesby and Craige; the Rev. C.L. Flowe, who was the school’s founder; Dr. Issac Miller, a former teacher and retired president of Bennett College; Andrew Harris, the school principal during its last two years; and the school’s namesake, Principal Clarence J. Shuford, who died of a heart attack in 1965.
That’s when the school’s name changed to “Shuford.”
Ray Charleston, a member of the school’s last sixth-grade class, remembers Shuford’s being a man who dared the students to think big.
“He would just inspire you to get your schooling down and think there was nothing you couldn’t do,” Charleston says.
The Granite Quarry/Shuford School went through several phases. First, it covered all grades — 1 through 11, in those days. Later, it housed only grades 1 through 8, then in its final years, was an elementary school through the sixth grade.
Granite Quarry Mayor Mary S. Ponds belonged to the generation attending the school through the eighth grade.
“We learned so much — and didn’t realize how much we were learning,” Ponds says.
As they gather as a group and sit down in the old auditorium, now a place for worship and music, the former students laugh when Willie Charleston remembers how they were expected to enter the room for assemblies.
“We had to march like soldiers, in step,” he says.
Mavis Moss and Lovie Reid attended the Granite Quarry School before it had a cafeteria. Reid remembers carrying packed lunches of peanut butter and crackers, potted meat or pimento cheese sandwiches.
Moss says Miss Rosebud Aggrey, one of her teachers and daughter of the famous principal, would provide breakfast for her students — butter biscuits and oatmeal with raisins.
“It was good,” she says.

Moss transferred to Granite Quarry Colored School in the fourth or fifth grade from a one-room school in the Hatters Shop community.
Girls were expected to wear dresses every day, she says.
Every fourth Sunday at the school, students were expected to participate in a program, which included songs and speeches.
“Looking back at it now,” Moss says, “it’s fond memories.”
All the former students say Bible study and prayer were integrated into their studies. There were morning devotionals and Bible verses to learn, along with hymns.
Discipline was tough, and if you got in trouble at school, students knew the punishment at home was going to be worse. The whole community seemed to know, too, of the day’s infraction by the time an offending student reached his or her front steps.
But students also had each other’s backs, especially in the classroom.
“Kids in the school made sure their friends were not left behind,” Ponds says.
A younger brother of Ponds, Calvin Strawder, says Shuford School provided “a very nurturing environment.”
Teachers not only stressed academics, but they wanted students to know social skills. Strawder, who now lives in Mableton, Ga., says he learned the proper way to set a table. Teachers also brought in different kinds of food he never would have tasted at home — a box of dates, for example.
“As simple as that might sound,” Strawder says.
He recalls how the textbooks were hand-me-downs from all-white schools, and they often had the names of four or five prior students written on the inside covers.
Strawder, who would go on to major in biology at N.C. A&T University with a minor in chemistry and math, says the school’s science lab consisted of items that had come in a box from some supply house.
But he loved when teachers brought out the science box. It had things such as a test tubes, light chemicals and balloons, and teachers had instructions on a couple of experiments to perform.
In 1963, Strawder would enroll at all-white East Rowan High School and become the first African-American to break the color barrier in Rowan County high schools.
But the Granite Quarry/Shuford Memorial School alumni say they seldom, if ever, worried themselves about the segregated schools of their day.
They were too busy learning, making friends, having fun and just being kids.
“We were poor,” Ponds acknowledges, “but we didn’t know it. We really were blessed — we had great teachers.”
Pond, Reid and the others mention how well the teachers were always dressed, how much pride they had in their jobs and how they tried to instill self-esteem in students.
“And whatever they said, that was it,” Reid says.
With heat from the coal-fired furnace circulating through radiators in each classroom, the school was comfortable in the winter, Reid says.
When a cafeteria was added, the former students say, lunches were delicious, and they could go back for seconds. Ponds remembers the lunch price being 20 cents. One of her favorite dishes was the cooks’ macaroni and cheese, with ham.
Many students walked to school, though Montina Fox rode a school bus from Fairview Heights in Salisbury, passing all-white schools on the way.
Ponds has fond memories of the school’s annual Fall Festivals.
Her brother, Strawder, once recalled that a bar of soap was kept by the water fountain, in case a student’s mouth had to be washed out for foul language.
From its beginnings, the school was a community rallying point.
The Rev. Flowe, who had come to White Rock AME Zion Church in 1906, made it one of his missions to establish a formal education system for children in his community.
By 1910, he and his wife were the first teachers of a school, which assembled at the church.
By 1924, the Rowan County Board of Education accepted the Granite Quarry School into its system and provided a small frame building for classes.
With federal funds work-project funds during the Depression and land and granite donated by the Harris and Granite companies, construction of the rock school started in 1933.
Many of the students’ fathers worked in the local quarries. The men helped in cutting the rock and supplying volunteer labor toward the school’s construction. It was dedicated Jan. 30, 1934.
The first building was a large, one-room facility with two cloak rooms. Two teachers managed 100 students.
As enrollment grew, three more rooms were added. During the school’s history, a consolidation of smaller black schools in eastern Rowan County occurred, and the Granite Quarry school began receiving students from communities such as Gold Hill, Rockwell, Providence, Barger and Dunn’s Mountain.
Shuford followed Rose Aggrey as principal for roughly 14 years until his death. Three years later, the school was closed.
Rowan Vocational Workshop vacated the school building in 1999, and Johnny and Brenda Morgan purchased the structure in 2004 for $95,000.
In 2001, the state of North Carolina recognized Shuford Memorial School as a historic site. Over the years, many distinguished educators and alumni passed through Granite Quarry/Shuford Memorial — people such as Ponds, Oglesby, Shuford and Jean Kennedy, currently on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education.
Fox, the girl who lived in Fairview Heights, recalls a day when the school bus didn’t show up. So she left the bus stop and walked several miles to Shuford Memorial, on the far eastern end of Granite Quarry.
Her mother found out, of course, and lit into Fox that night.
“She tore me up,” Fox says, “but I said, ‘Mama, I went to school!”
It was a school they’ll never forget.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or