Online exhibit focuses on black education history in High Point
A new online exhibit launched by the High Point Museum offers a unique look at local education for blacks during segregation.
“A Pathway to Opportunity: High Point Normal and Industrial Institute,” which can be accessed from the museum’s website, features historic photographs from William Penn High School and its predecessor, High Point Normal and Industrial Institute,” which served black students prior to integration.
“We have pictures and a few documents that highlight the school, which eventually became William Penn,” said Marian Inabinett, curator of collections for the museum.
“I think it shows you how seriously the students and faculty in those early years took their education. It really is a window in time. It’s not a huge exhibit, but it gives you a quick snapshot of what that school was.”
The museum launched the exhibit, created by museum volunteer Stanley Williams, in conjunction with the observation of February as Black History Month.
“This is one of those exhibits where you hope it will generate people’s interest to learn a little bit more,” Inabinett said.
The High Point Normal and Industrial Institute opened in 1891, when it was founded by a Quaker organization called the New York Society of Friends. It was High Point’s only black school until 1902, when Fairview School was founded. According to the exhibit, the institute “earned a reputation for its high-quality vocational training, robust academic curriculum, and lengthy list of distinguished alumni.”
Early on, the institute taught young men industrial trades such as carpentry, bricklaying and blacksmithing — they were actually responsible for constructing all of the buildings on campus — but the program later included academic subjects such as algebra, physics, history and Latin.
Meanwhile, young women were taught homemaking skills such as cooking and dressmaking, but later on, their curriculum also included academic subjects.
The city of High Point took over administration of the school in 1923, and it was renamed William Penn High School in 1927 as a nod to the school’s Quaker history. The school closed in 1968.
In addition to the online photo exhibit, the museum is also posting other images related to black history in High Point on the museum’s Facebook page.
The museum also has a number of black-history items on display at the museum, including such artifacts as a piano that belonged to the family of John Coltrane; a stained-glass window from First Baptist Church on Washington Drive, one of High Point’s oldest black churches; and a gavel that belonged to William Penn High School graduate Sammie Chess, who went on to become North Carolina’s first black Superior Court judge in 1971.
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The High Point Museum’s online exhibit, “A Pathway to Opportunity: High Point Normal and Industrial Institute,” can be viewed on the museum website at www.highpointmuseum.org. Click on “Exhibits” and then “Online Exhibits” to find it.
In conjunction with the observance of February as Black History Month, the museum is also posting images related to local black history on its Facebook page.
There are also a number of black history items on display at the museum, which is located at 1859 E. Lexington Ave.