The Friendship School

the friendship school
  • In western Wake County, the white farmers and their slaves were joined by “free persons of color” (“FPOC”)—that is, non-enslaved people of mixed African, European, and Native American (particularly Tuscarora) descent.  As these several ethnic groups began to do business together, to attend church together, and to marry one another, some feared that such social interweaving might lead to ethnic tension and strife, as was all-too-common elsewhere.  According to the oral history record recited by their descendants, the concerned leaders of this multiracial community decided to take their cue from the Native American tradition of powwows and peace pipes.  Sometime in the nineteenth century—most likely before the Civil War—they came together in this fashion and said to one another, in effect: “We’re here.  It’s in our interest that we all get along.  Let’s call our community ‘Friendship.’”  (Hollemans 2010: 189f)

    The State Superintendent of Public Instruction for North Carolina, reporting in 1922, proudly noted that in the previous year the North Carolina General Assembly had voted to establish “a Division of Negro Education in the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for the purpose of giving better supervision of the Negro schools,” doing so at the “negligible” cost to the State of just $12,500.  This new division was created out of concern for the fact that “practically all the [financial] supervision given [to schools for children of color] was the result of donations from foreign agencies.”  Up until that time, he said, the education of African-American children had been funded (such as it was) by “provincial missionary boards” and other “pious and well-meaning [sic.] individuals of other States” who were “moved by pathetic stories of neglect.”  However, he went on to say (without citing examples), some of these funding agencies were fraudulent.

    Remarkably, this new Division of Negro Education had already helped to raise $100,000 from Black citizens to support rural schools in their communities.  And as a result, the Superintendent said, “negroes” now feel “a new loyalty to the State,” and they “complain considerably less.”  Moreover, “they have contributed freely of their funds to help erect their own school buildings and to maintain their public schools on a higher plane.”  Result: “a greater harmony prevails between the races, … the best to be found in any State in the Union.”  (Brooks 1920-1922: 34f)

    Barely a year later, in 1923, the Friendship School was built.

    This one-room schoolhouse was one of 5300 Rosenwald schools of various sizes constructed in the South between 1913 and 1932.  Indeed, under the leadership of a prominent Black educator by the name of George E. Davis, and William F. Cradle, a white educator, 787 Rosenwald schools were built in North Carolina alone, along with two dozen more teachers and industrial arts workshops.  Funding support for the Friendship School and thousands of other school buildings came from the president and part owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Jewish philanthropist Julius Rosenwald.  Deeply concerned about “the horrors … due to race prejudice,” he endowed a large fund for the support of African American school construction that was based on economical and energy-efficient designs developed at the renowned Tuskegee Institute in eastern Alabama under the leadership of Booker T. Washington.  The Rosenwald Fund helped to inspire deeper funding by the State in Black schools.  Indeed, between 1919 and 1928, State funding for African American education increased from $1.28 million to $4.53 million.  But, of course, funding for White education during this period increased much, much more.  (Roy and Ford 2019: print-out p. 22-24; Hollemans 2010: 111-116; )

    Typically, the cost of erecting a Rosenwald school would be shared by three participating groups and divided as follows: local Black citizens’ gifts—40%; Rosenwald Fund contributions—40%; and, State and local government funding—20%.  In the case of the Friendship School, however, the funding ratio was different: $890 in local African American gifts, $700 from the Rosenwald Fund, and $1200 in State funding—for a total of $2790.  And local volunteers from the Friendship community built the school.  That the State contributed so much compared to normative Rosenwald School practice is curious.  Might this have been because, just one year previously, the State had loaned Wake County $29,000 to erect a new $69,000 eleven-grade school for the White schoolchildren of nearby Apex?  (Fisk U. 2001; Highsmith 1920-1922: 18).

  • The Friendship School

    7600 Humie Olive Road
    Apex, North Carolina
    Opened 1923 - Closed 1954

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