While the last graduate of Mary M. Bethune is gone, the school’s name will continue surviving Halifax County students because of the scholarship foundation.
It all started more than 100 years ago.
The Halifax Training School had its beginning when the Halifax County School Board purchased the existing facilities from the Banister Baptist Association in 1920.
It had four principals during its period of existence. Herman Sykes was the first principal. Following his tenure as high school principal, he served as an elementary principal and as head of the agriculture program when it was introduced.
Louis Anderson became principal in 1932 and served for one year.
Marian McCown followed and served until William C. Edwards came in 1934. W. C. Edwards served until his retirement in 1966.
In the 1920s, the school year was five months beginning about October and salaries were $25.30 per month.
In 1948, consolidated schooling began in Halifax County when Booker T. Washington High School of South Boston was merged into the Halifax Training School in the town of Halifax. This merger and other expansion at the training school site was influenced by Dr. Fred M. Alexander, State Supervisor of Negro Education, State Department of Education, and Dr. Sidney B. Baff, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
An addition to the “T” shaped building forming the “H” shape was completed in 1948 to accommodate the children from Booker T. High School. Later, the vocational and agriculture building was completed.
In 1955, the two-story building just south of the “H” shaped building was completed. It gave Black children their first official cafeteria, a gymnasium, expansive library, fully equipped science laboratory and authentic home eco-nomics class space.
Following an evaluation of the school and its program in 1951, William C. Edwards, the principal, requested permission from the board to change the name of the school and was instructed to make the plans for such change. The preparation began including informing all of the Black citizens and soliciting their support and approval. At least 10 names, some of them local persons, were originally proposed.
The list was narrowed to the following two: Doctor Charles D. Drew and Mary M. Bethune. In a meeting of Black representatives these two names were voted on. The vote was a tie, 6-6.
The principal broke the tie when he voted for Mary M. Bethune. With the tie broken, Dr. Leon V. Ragland moved that this name be submitted to the board as a unanimous choice. The name of the high school for Black children was changed in 1956. On Jan. 15, 1956, it was officially dedicated as Mary M. Bethune High School of Halifax County. In the 50s, it was “the state’s largest rural Negro high school.”
After W. C. Edwards retired in 1966, Lazarus Bates became principal until integration took place in 1969. Following integration, Bates served as principal until he retired in the same building of the integrated junior high school. After integration in 1969, the school became the Halifax County Junior High School and served the entire county school population until the 1979-80 school year.
During a visit to his former high school — after integration — Emmett O. Green, class of 1956, discovered a need to preserve the school’s history of education in Halifax County. He had a vision of forming an alumni association.
Green called other graduates from Halifax County living in the Washington metropolitan area and shared his concerns regarding the forming of an alumni association.
On Saturday, July 28, 1973, the first official meeting of the Mary M. Bethune Alumni and Associates was held in Washington, D.C.
Those present at the first meeting were Emmett and Pam Green, Agnes and Von Poindexter, Mary and Richard Lee, Jean Coleman Contee, Faye Brewer Taylor, Phyllis Pannell Wilkerson, Rose Crawley Adams, Geraldine Sadler Washington, J.P. Logan and John Lee. Green was elected president.
Area chairpersons from 16 cities and towns were appointed to coordinate the first reunion that was held on Saturday, June 29, 1994. There were over 1,000 in attendance. It was decided that the next reunion would be held in 1976 and every other year thereafter.
The executive board met in 1975 and made the decision that membership fees will be $10 a year. Major objectives of the association were to encourage alumni in various areas to establish local Mary M. Bethune Alumni Chapters, to establish a Bethune Scholarship, to establish a historical Mary M. Bethune Trophy Case and to finance a history book.
The book, “The History of the Education of Black Citizens in Halifax County: 1866-1969,” written by W.C. Edwards, Preston M. Royster and Bates, was published in 1979. Copies are still available.
Membership of the Mary M. Bethune Alumni and Associates will consist of persons who attended Bethune or other high schools which were established for educating Black residents of Halifax County, persons employed in these schools, spouses of the above and other residents of Halifax County-South Boston who are interested in affiliating and assisting in implementing the purposes and objectives of this organization.
The alumni association’s main objective was to award scholarships to local high school students regardless to race, creed or color. Because of this objective, in 1978 the Mary M. Bethune Scholarship Foundation Inc. was formed.
The foundation is a separate 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization that has as its goal to raise $500,000 in sustaining funds.
These sustaining funds are needed to ensure scholarships are continued for years to come.
Learn more at www.bethunescholarshipfoundation.org.