Education

Fifty years later, Belmont aims to keep alive memory of all-black school

Charles Reid, grandson of Professor Reid stands by the historical marker of Reid High School. The African-American Reid School closed its doors for good 50 years ago, but former students keep its memory alive.
Charles Reid, grandson of Professor Reid stands by the historical marker of Reid High School. The African-American Reid School closed its doors for good 50 years ago, but former students keep its memory alive. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

When the all-black Reid High School campus closed for good 50 years ago, ninth-grader Charles Reid expected the empty buildings would serve other purposes.

Instead, they were quickly demolished. Left behind were only a few bricks, symbols of a beloved educational institution that left its mark on a community’s heart.

“We had no opportunity to grieve,” said Reid, 64, of Belmont, grandson of the school’s founder, professor Charles Jesse Bynum Reid. “Although the school closed there was a smooth transition to Belmont High. There are still some questions, but it had to be to go forward for the end of segregation.”

The site where the school once stood is now Belmont’s Reid Park, a popular recreational area for some, a place that stirs many memories for others.

This year, the 50th anniversary of Reid School’s closing, the focus on keeping its story alive will take many forms.

In early January, the Belmont City Council passed a resolution proclaiming 2016 the Year of Remembrance of Reid High. Belmont Mayor Charlie Martin is pleased with all the attention the Reid neighborhood will be getting this year.

“It’s a great community,” he said. “With a lot of good people.”

Special events this year include a grand reunion and parade Sept. 2-3. A history book is in also the works. The first event is in April when the public is invited to a panel/forum titled “Reid High: The Significance of Our Legacy.” Charles Reid will moderate the panel.

Last year, Reid watched a 1991 television movie, “Separate but Equal” which starred Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, the lead NAACP attorney in the Brown v. Board of Education case. Clarendon County, S.C. was the site of the Briggs v. Elliott case, and the movie refocused Reid’s thoughts about the school he attended until its closing in 1966.

For him, the legacy of Reid School is what the teachers and administrators gave to students.

“Pride, respect, love, loyalty – all instilled in us as we went on to serve humanity,” he said. “It was a powerful gift.”

The school’s namesake was a native of Lowell, and a 1908 graduate of Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tenn. He’d taught in Mount Holly before coming to Belmont in 1918. Soft-spoken but strict, Charles Jesse Reid cared about students and the community at large – and expected his teachers to feel the same way.

The professor died in 1940, but his example lived on at the school and the community. Students at Reid School not only came from Belmont but from other Gaston County towns, like Mount Holly, Lowell, Cramerton and Dallas.

Former students like Walter Hand and Doris Stowe Moore call the school the foundation of their education.

Hand, the first African-American to serve on the Belmont Police Department, considered the school a sanctuary.

“You knew the teachers cared for you,” said Hand, 78, of Charlotte. “It was a family school.”

Moore, 66, of Belmont attended Reid School from 1955 until 1964.

Looking back, she recalls that at Reid, parents, teachers, churches and communities worked together “with what they had to provide the best education possible.” Leaders did what they could to give each generation a better life. Every year, school leaders came up with new ideas and new possibilities for the advancement of each student.

Moore said teachers guided many students in positive directions that changed their lives forever. And it’s imperative, she said, “for our generation and the next to do more, to be more involved, to encourage our children, grandchildren and any child that seeks out suggestions for the future.”

In the years ahead, she said the school’s legacy will continue as a positive example to others “as long as any of we former Reid students are alive. We will continue to celebrate our school, not its closing, but it’s existence and what it has meant to us.”

Preparing for April’s panel discussion, Charles Reid visited Reid Park for a look around the area where he once lived and went to school. He remembered walking from his house on Todd Street down the pathway where his grandfather, the professor, once lived right beside the school.

Reid could almost see the hallways in the elementary school and smell cleaning materials used on the floors. The face of his first-grade teacher, Mrs. Ruth Grier, came into view. He was an adult when she died and “I was honored to give the eulogy,” Reid said.

The ties that connect him to the vanished school are as strong as ever.

“Reid School will live forever in our memories and brighten our days,” Reid said. “Reid graduates had something instilled that was lasting and good and so we can’t forget that. We have to tell our children and grandchildren about the legacy.”

Want to Go?

What: Panel discussion “Reid High: The Significance of Our Legacy.” .

When: 1 p.m. April 16

Where: Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, 212 South St., Belmont.

Details: Charles Reid at 704-825-4017

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