From the outside, you would never guess what’s so special about Hunter Elementary. Its bricks are chipped and darkened, and its architecture is simple. But if you take notice of the columns at the entrance – a gift from the school’s first principal – you will see they offer a hint of this school’s grandeur and its ambitions for its students.
Students today do not choose to attend Hunter Elementary for the building, which has survived the Great Depression, over 45 years of segregation, a massive fire and bouts of mold. Students today come from all over Wake County to attend Hunter and to take advantage of the gifted and talented curriculum. A curriculum that is as broad-ranging and varied as its student population. Hunter is a diverse and dynamic community, a place where every child can truly shine.
Even the history of the school’s site is impressive. The school board that condemned the ten acres of land around East Davie Street on July 14, 1926 must have been familiar with the site’s history. Between 1833 and 1840 it included a quarry that yielded stone for the North Carolina State Capitol. Later, the gaping hole on the site became a “crime pot” where public executions were held while vendors hawked refreshments and souvenirs to numerous spectators.
It’s doubtful that even Lucille Hunter, the teacher for whom the school is named, could have foreseen the changes the entire educational system would undergo – specifically integration and the gifted and talented program.
Lucille Hunter never taught in the school that bears her name. She died in the year before it opened its doors. Born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1883, she was the daughter of slaves. In 1888, she married Wiley B. Hunter, a Wake County teacher and principal. The Hunters had a son, Kendall, who died in a bicycle accident before he was 16
Ms. Hunter taught in Raleigh’s segregated black schools for over 40 years. In 1899, when she was teaching third grade at the Washington School, she was listed in the Raleigh Public Schools Annual Report as a “colored” teacher with a monthly salary of $30. Ms. Hunter was known for her love of poetry, sense of humor, generosity and kindness – often giving to her church and the needy.
In 1927, construction of the Hunter Elementary School was complete and dedicated to Ms. Hunter, the first African American teacher in North Carolina to have a school named after her. In accordance with NC segregation laws the school had a black principal, black teachers and black students in the grades 1-7.
Two years after Hunter opened, the Great Depression descended and many Hunter parents lost their jobs and their homes. For their children, school was a place to be warm and cared for. Some in the upper grades had to leave school to support parents and younger siblings
Through the 1960s Hunter continued to offer a firm but loving education to the all-black community it served. But change was coming. In 1971, integration came to North Carolina schools and Hunter became a sixth-grade center.
In 1978, another significant development affected Hunter – the merger of the Raleigh City and Wake County public school systems. With the merger came the idea of magnet schools, a strategy to attract students from the periphery of the county to the city’s under-enrolled schools, like Hunter. Seven years after becoming an integrated sixth-grade center, Hunter was again a K-6 elementary school, but this time with a magnet component to attract students to its new Gifted and Talented program, the first of its kind in the city-county system, and one that offered a program for children who were perceived to be academically gifted. Hunter also became the first Wake County school to have teachers certified to instruct GT classes.
Initially, the GT program was segregated within itself by ability grouping, which completely separated those children in gifted classes from those in regular classes. However, in 1985, the principal of Hunter at the time, Sue King, changed the way the school and county looked at the GT program. She recruited children based on the idea that all children have gifts and talents, putting children in classes in which they could succeed, even though they were not identified as academically gifted. Today, the mix of heterogeneous and ability-grouped classes ensures that all children are appropriately challenged while also gaining an appreciation for diversity.
During the past 25 years, Hunter Elementary has continued to thrive as a flagship magnet, promoting a love of learning, a love of the arts and a desire to reach every child in a way the inspires them to learn and grow.
Hunter Elementary has come a long way from its beginnings in 1927. But the eagerness to learn, the spirit and excitement of its students continues to be the essence of the school. As an old bumper sticker said, “It’s Happening at Hunter.”
Below is the history of Hunter Elementary, written in 1992 by Iris June Vinegar and edited in 2002 by Christine Kushner.