West End group stresses importance of Price High to city’s history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 12, 2015

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — The West End community held a reception Friday afternoon at the former J.C. Price High School on West Bank Street to welcome new Salisbury City Manager Lane Bailey.

The choice of Price High School for the reception was a strategic one. Members of West End Pride, the West End Community Organization and Price Alumni Association wanted to make sure Bailey knew the importance of the city-owned property and some of issues the 1932 structure is facing.

The Price school currently serves as headquarters for the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency and its local Head Start program of 160 children. The city has installed a new roof on the school and a heating and air-conditioning system at its Hall Gymnasium, which is the city’s only public gym.

About 16 people attended the afternoon reception, and they applauded when the new roof was mentioned. Mayor Paul Woodson, also a guest, said “double applause” was in order for the new heating and air-conditioning at Hall Gym, and everyone agreed.

Eleanor Qadirah, a Price alumna, organized the reception for Bailey, and she said retired City Manager David Treme had always shown an interest in Price, which the city leases to the Community Action Agency for $1 a year.

“We still want the city to show us interest,” Qadirah said.

During Friday’s discussion, Stan Wilson, executive director of the Community Action Association, spoke of the organization’s 51-year history, its service to six counties and 1,098 children in Head Start, the 300 people who are employed by the agency, its youth programs and assistance to parents, its help in weatherizing homes for seniors and its early efforts to reach out to the Latino and Hispanic communities.

“This building is critical to us,” Wilson said.

Wilson added his organization is committed to the West End. He noted that one large space not used in the old school is the auditorium, which once sat upwards of 500 students. The condition of the building’s windows, especially toward the rear of the school, also is a concern, Wilson said.

Qadirah said these kind of improvements for the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, obviously will take money.

“We can’t get to the auditorium until we get to the windows,” she said.

Franco Goodman, owner of Goodman Millwork, has visited the site and agreed with that assessment. He also noted how improvements and repairs will have to fit historic preservation guidelines.

Goodman described the school auditorium as “neat and unique” and as having the potential to be “something this community could use,” if it were renovated. Friday’s group met in the school library.

Much of the rest of the meeting was devoted to participants telling Bailey and Woodson how important Price High School and its history is to Salisbury. Price, which has a H-shaped layout, is one of 4,977 Rosenwald schools built in mostly rural areas of the South between 1913 and 1932.

The program name refers to Julius Rosenwald, its primary benefactor, whose millions in contributions were supplemented by donations in African-American communities during a time when “separate but equal” school systems were in place.

Price served as the black high school in Salisbury from 1932 to 1969. Today, its former students form a unique national alumni association with organized chapters in several states and Washington, D.C.

“We really have no other schools we can say are our school,” Shirley McLaughlin of West End Pride said. “It’s the only history we have as far as schools.”

Visitors can come to Price and still see the way it was, McLaughlin noted.

William Peoples praised the work of the Community Action Agency and expressed gratitude for what has happened in years past to preserve Price. If the Community Action Agency had not been using Price all these years, “what shape would this building be in?” People asked.

“It makes you feel good there is still something here from your childhood,” he said. “… It reminds me of the good old days.”

Peoples said he and Castella Brown, who also attended Friday’s gathering, were among the last students to attend Price in 1969 before they became part of the first fully integrated eighth grade at Knox Junior High. That was important to him, Peoples said.

Deedee Wright of the West End Community Organization said she wasn’t an alumna of Price, but she had become invested through the years in Price’s history. She is a former interim executive director of the Community Action Agency (once the Community Service Council), and she said she would be willing to work with the city in investigating possible grants that might be available for improvements to the building.

Peoples said when people talk about Salisbury, they often speak of its history. But you can’t talk about Salisbury’s history without including the African-American contributions to it, he said.

A restoration of Price High School would not be a project for black people only, Peoples said, but a project that contributes to the entire city’s history.

Bailey, who has been Salisbury’s city manager for less than four months, introduced himself, ran down some of his work and family history and mentioned how he has spent a lot of time meeting community leaders, including Wright and Peoples.

He said he saw Salisbury as a good fit for him and his family, and from his manager’s perspective, “I’m confident that our best days are ahead of us.”

In the early months of his job, Bailey said he has heard concerns about recreation programs and the lack of diversity in the city’s workforce. He said he continues to learn more about purpose-built communities and how they are modeled, and that Price High School probably would have to be a major part of that for it to be successful.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.