Historic Places
Halifax County, Virginia

Mary M. Bethune High School

taken from The History of the Education of Black Citizens in Halifax County: 1866 - 1969
by W.C. Edwards, Preston M. Royster, and Lazarus Bates. Copyright Banister Press - 1979

What was the Mary M. Bethune High School and now holds the the majority of the County's public offices, the Bethune Complex began as the Halifax Normal Institute.

Halifax Institute was also called Banner Institute because it was the Banister Baptist Association that built and operated it beginning in 1872.

In 1872 the association set up a Board of eleven men, composed of ministers, professional workers, businessmen and parents. These men were delegated the work of getting a school built and operating.

Land was purchased from Mayor Edmondson of South Boston.

In 1897 and 1898 the school opened. The first principal was James R. Eubanks of Pulaski. His second term was interrupted after a few months of work. J. C. Carter a prominent teacher and lawyer was appointed to fill the vacancy. He worked two years and was followed by B. J. Hundley who served about six or seven years. Professor B. W. Terrell followed Mr. Hundley and served until 1918. Terrell was educated in Germany. He was very different but very outstanding in knowledge and discipline.

In 1919 Dr. James F. Chafin was the last principal for the associational school. Many of the graduates of the old Halifax Institute furthered their education in other schools and colleges and served the county and state in useful positions such as teachers, nurses, ministers and social workers. Ms. N. E. Jennings and Ms. Pamela Foy Jackson are two known graduates of the Institute.

In the early twenties the old Halifax Institute closed its doors and the building was purchased by the County School Board to operate as a public school for the town of Halifax.

With a note of sadness mixed with joy the board members signed the papers of release. The last member to sign for the release was the Rev. P. L. Barksdale.

The original buildings of the Institute formed a campus of four or five wooden buildings. The administration building was just in front of the "H" shaped brick building at the old junior High School. Another building just East of it was used for industrial arts and other classes. At the Southwest corner of this building stood additional classrooms. This building was later used as classrooms and a cafeteria for the Halifax Training School. The fourth one was due East of this one. It was used as a dormitory for girls for both the Institute and the Training School.

Around 1918 and 1919, the last years of its operation as the Halifax Normal Institute, the school had a well-qualified, but small staff. According to William G. Sykes, in a February 17, 1976 letter to Lazarus Bates, his father came to Halifax County in 1917 or 1918 to join the faculty, and his mother Willie Lee Anderson Sykes came to the County to teach in the school in 1919. fie stated that:

The school was run under private auspices and had nine teachers. Included were Mrs. Rebecca Floyd, Miss Marian McCown, Mrs. Eddie Martin, Mrs. Louise Ward Jeffress, Mrs. Marion Coleman, Miss Willie Lee Anderson and H. S. Sykes. If memory serves Mother correctly, students included Mrs. Grace Ewell Harris, Harry Jeffress, Wade Wicks, John Owens and one or more of the Harris family (Mofly Haff is Spraggins, Alice Harris, Ida Bell Harris).

In 1934 and 1935 the Principal W. C. Edwards of the Training School resided in this building. Following that, it was used for home economics classes until the current home economics classrooms were built.

The highest grade was nine and the curriculum of the institute consisted of courses in English, history, social studies, math, science and apparently a foreign language. The total number of units required for graduation was less than sixteen and the school year was approximately six months.

Halifax Training School had its beginning when the County School Board purchased the existing facilities from the Banister Baptist Association in 1920. Later, as explained previously, it became the consolidated school to serve all Black children in Halifax County. In the 50's, it was "the state's largest rural Negro high school. In the 1920's the school year was five months beginning about October, and salaries were $25.30 per month.

It had five principals during its period of existence. Mr. 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. Mr. Louis Anderson became principal in 1932 and served for one year. Miss Marian McCown followed and served until William C. Edwards came in 1934. W. C. Edwards served until his retirement in 1966 and was followed by Lazarus Bates who was principal until integration took place in 1969. Following integration, Mr. Bates served as principal until he retired, in the same building of the integrated junior high school.

From the time it became public until desegregation, the Training School was the focal point of Black people for educational and social events. In its early days, it was largely a boarding school.

County records are basically void of student enrollments and faculty at the school from 1920 to approximately 1934 (co-author Edwards became principal at that time). It is known, however, from Jewel Carrington and William Kent, local community leaders, that well-qualified teachers were hired and numerous extra-curricular activities were started.

William Kent, funeral director and vice Mayor of South Boston, attended the Training School and recalled that the modern brick ("H" shaped building) was opened in 1930. When the building first opened, it was "T" shaped. The other wing was added later. He also remembered distinctly that, when construction was in progress, school was held in several churches including Banister Hill Baptist and other buildings in the town of Halifax.

Consolidated schooling began in 1948 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. In 1938 Dr. Baff introduced the "trend in the consolidation of high schools" to the School Board. Dr. Alexander was appointed to head a study committee to recommend the growth pattern of schools in the county for Negroes.

The 1947 report recommended consolidation features that were reflected in consolidation and expansion that ensued at Halifax Training and Bethune High. As a result of these recommendations, expansion of the Training School was begun and it was continuous.

First came the addition to the "T" - shaped building in 1948 to accommodate the children from Booker T. High School. Next came the two story building just south of the "H" - shaped building in 1950. Then came the Vocational and Agriculture Building about 1953.

A number of years later, in 1955, the two story building (mentioned above) was completed. It gave Black children their first official cafeteria, a gymnasium, expansive library, fully equipped science laboratory and authentic home economics class space.

The name of the high school for Black children was changed in 1956. On January 15, 1956, the plant was officially dedicated as Mary M. Bethune High School of Halifax County.

The effort to change the name was started in 1951. Following an evaluation of the school and its program, the principal (Edwards) requested permission from the Board to change the name of the school and was instructed to make the plans for such change. The preparation including informing all of the Black citizens and soliciting their support and approval. At least ten names, some of them local persons, were originally proposed. But, in the final stages of the planning only two survived - 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. Following this time, expansion was rapid and continual.

Following 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.
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