Alums of historic all-Black Pender school want a name change to honor their legacy
Over 200 community members are petitioning to change Topsail Elementary’s name back to Annandale, the all-Black school that opened in 1956 and closed in 1968. WHQR reports on the efforts to preserve the school’s history.
In 1955, Annandale, the eight-room school building, named after a local township in Pender County, cost about $100,000 to construct. The following year, the school board sent five all-Black community schoolhouses ranging from Browntown, Vista, and Harrison’s Creek to Annandale, according to a 2016 StarNews article on the school.
All-black schools like Annandale were built after the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education in an attempt to “equalize school for Black students” — because prior to the ruling, these students attended mainly one-room schoolhouses called Rosenwald Schools.
But in the late 1960s, Pender county started moving away from all-Black 'equalization' schools like Annandale in order to fully integrate schools.
Annandale closed in 1968 and re-opened as Topsail Primary School. In 1990, the school became Topsail Elementary, which served K-5 students. There were some interceding years where the school became a middle school — but in 2009, it officially re-opened as an elementary school.
While Topsail Elementary has undergone renovations and additions, the original Annandale building is still a wing of the school.
Alums push for renaming
In an effort to preserve Annandale's history, the group, ‘the Annandale alumni, former employees, and concerned citizens of Pender County', sent a formal letter to both the Pender County School Board and the superintendent in April 2021 asking for the name change.
The letter states the renaming decision was “never discussed with the Black parents, the school administration or staff. [...] In Pender county and the surrounding areas, we have no childhood school history remaining. [...] Along with the name change, everything about our history was discarded.”
Annandale alum Pauline Moore Lewis spoke to the Pender County School Board at their November 9th, 2021, meeting about what the name change would mean to her.
“I'm standing before you because this would mean so much to me before I leave this earth because at that school I realized there, I could really, really be something because I saw teachers dressed up – look like me. And men look like my daddy or my brother. And so I asked you to really look deep down in your hearts and see if there is any way that you can restore the school back to Annandale School,” said Lewis.
Alum Francis Hansley Morrisey also spoke at this meeting.
“When I started there I was in fifth grade. And I thought it was also nice to have a desk all to myself, a desk that hadn't been scribbled on – we thought that was so nice. [...] And just take it to heart, that we’re not trying to take anything from anybody,” said Morrisey.
Morrisey said she had pride riding the “big yellow limo” (the bus) to school — and experiencing, for the first time, access to indoor plumbing, hot meals in a cafeteria, and more than one educator.
Remembering Annandale — and what came after
James Hansley, a retired truck driver, is one of the alumni leading the effort to preserve Annandale’s legacy. He said in an interview with WHQR that some of his favorite memories of the school were recess and “being able to go to the canteen outside of the school, they had a little white building and we would go to and get our Rock and Roll's and our milk. [...] And in May, when school was about to be dismissed, we would wrap the maypole, you know certain things we did that we didn't do when we went to an integrated school.”
Hansley recalled when Annandale closed in the late 1960s — and he had to attend Topsail High School, previously an all-white school.
“It was sort of disappointing and then it was sort of fearful. We were going into something that we didn’t know what we were going into. You just try and prepare yourself for what you’re going into — and that’s when the fights came in at,” said Hansley.
Hansley said he wished he’d spent more time learning than fighting. But he added that things got better over the years — and he had the support of some of his former Annandale teachers who moved with him to Topsail.
“And they taught us not only the basic education of learning, but they taught us some of the golden rules of life, and if we didn't behave well these teachers back then would stop by your house in the afternoon and tell your mama now,” said Hansley.
Hansley said he owes his roots to Annandale and wants the community to remember what he, and others like him, went through.
“The more I looked at it, the more I became interested in saying, 'There's nothing there for our kids. There's nothing there for me.' And I can go back and look at the building, but I want the kids to be able to know what our school was, what we went through, what we had to do in order for them to be able to do what they doing today,” said Hansley.
Pender County Board of Education
After hearing from Annandale alumni at the November 9th meeting, it was on the February 8 agenda for board members to discuss a ‘historical marker’ designation, not a name change.
Board member Ken Smith asked, “But does the board want to put this on the agenda for next month? I mean, now’s the time – We’ll see if they would be willing to join together on this joint effort between us and the alumni. [...] Any comments from board members?”
When Smith asked this question, there was silence from the board and no further deliberation. They then moved on to the next agenda item: air quality.
Kenneth Keith is a retired educator and a former Pender County School Board Member. He’s been working with Hansley — and isn’t clear on the board’s next steps.
“I think it's time to go back to the board and find out what's going on. Why did they not communicate back with the committee? And to put it [the renaming] to a vote, let's see which board members support it, and which ones don't. And explain your reasons why publicly,” said Keith.
Asked if Annandale alumni would be satisfied with just a historical marker. Keith said, “No, they want the name change. I mean, it worked out very well for Burgaw Elementary, going back to C.F. Pope – and everything's fine.”
C.F. Pope was a revered former principal of an all-Black high school in Pender County. The board approved that change in 2020.
In an email from Pender County Schools communications coordinator Bob Fankboner, there’s been “a discussion of the historical marker" but "no other steps have been taken.”
At this time, no board members chose to comment on the name change — their next meeting is scheduled for March 1st.
The Pender County Board has Policy 9300 on naming facilities. It states, “naming facilities [is] a significant endeavor since the name of a facility can reflect upon the students, staff, school system and community. Facilities shall be named in accordance with geographic location or similar site-specific identifiers, such as roads, streets, subdivisions or communities.”
The policy goes on to state that a superintendent can recommend a change to the board.
On the Topsail Elementary (TES) website, part of the school’s mission is, “In partnership with families and invested individuals, TES seeks to build a thriving and culturally-responsive school community, dedicated to continued growth that makes learning a reality for all.”