Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Consolidation and <cite>Brown v. Board</cite> in Duplin County

Control of schools should be local, Herring believes. A 1953 proposal by then-governor William B. Umstead to transfer consolidation authority from the State Board of Education to county boards allowed Duplin residents to consider consolidation. They took action just as the Supreme Court handed down its <cite>Brown</cite> decision, and an all-black school under construction became, with community consent, an integrated school.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William Dallas Herring, February 14, 1987. Interview C-0034. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

In 1953 the state board of education decreed that the Magnolia School would be closed. Hiden Ramsey led the State Board of Education at the time. Old man Hunter was sent down here, not to ask us whether we would agree to that, but to tell us that we were going to close that school. They sent it to Rose Hill, of all places. It stirred up the people of Magnolia. They resented it. I remember going before the Board of Education in Raleigh and asking them to give us some time to work it out our way, but they were very unyielding. Umstead was governor then. There were fifteen schools across the state that they had decreed were too small and not cost effective and should be closed. It undoubtedly was true. The problem was the way they went about solving the problem.
By decree.
It created quite a stir in the '53 session of the legislature. If you read the journal, you'll see that Umstead went before the legislature and asked that they remove the authority of the State Board of Education to consolidate schools and put it back in the hands of the local boards of education. Then he said, and this was very perceptive on his part, "I warn you that you'll have more consolidation of schools under that arrangement than you have now." It turned out to be very prophetic. I agreed with him thoroughly that you need to put the responsibility—no, the authority where the responsibility is locally.
Was that adopted?
It was adopted. It was a heated issue. If you will read the newspaper file from 1953, Magnolia School was reopend as a result of public pressure. But then our Kellogg project reached a climax about the same time. The citizens themselves began to debate the issue. Wallace needed a new high school. Rose Hill needed a new high school. They began talking among themselves—it's seven miles apart. The village of Teachey is between them. To make a long story short, the citizens decided they wanted to consolidate the schools. Calypso and Faison were the first. For years they couldn't make up their minds which side of Goshen Swamp they wanted to put their schools on. They were not opposed to consolidating. They came before the board and said, "Build us a new school, and we'll let you put it wherever you want to." The mayor of the town, each mayor, the board of commissioners—a unanimous decision. The only trouble was we didn't have the money to do anything with. But there were the county commisioners involved, you see. We turned to them at the same meeting and said we have got to have the money to do this and right now. I don't think it took but about $200,000. This was 1953, I think it was. We built them a new school, North Duplin High School, and from that beginning we had the consolidation of all the schools. Then, of course, at the time of the Supreme Court decision in 1954 we were in the process of building a new Union School for blacks. We were just ready to let the contract. It's now the E. E. Smith School at Kenansville, named for the Duplin native, E. E. Smith, who was president of Fayetteville State. We had a meeting—called a special meeting of the black leaders of the Kellogg project. "What do you want us to do? We've got new instructions from higher up about this. We're fixing to build the blacks a school." They understood. They really didn't seem to me to be thinking about integration and were not concerned about it. But one of them in the back got up and said, "Go ahead and build it. We'll use it together." [Laughter] And that's what we did.
Well, I'll declare, integrated from the beginning.
Well, it took some time, you know, for that idea to be absorded but we went ahead and built the school realizing that it probably would be an integrated school eventually. It was located very well—in the center of the county. It's now a junior high school. And Warsaw, Kenansville, and Magnolia came together [to form a new high school, James Kenan]. Well, I dragged that out a little further than I should have, but it taught me a lesson that I had previously learned here in Rose Hill when we paved the streets, even before Kerr Scott's program and the Powell Bill Fund Program started for building streets. We paid for it ourselves without any help from anybody. But it was because the people got together and said the streets were so bad that they were just ready to do it. If you put the problem in the laps of the people and put them in a situation where they have got to make a decision themselves, they are apt to make the right decision if you give them time to study it and if they know all the facts.