WILMINGTON -- Forty years ago life changed dramatically for thousands of people living in our area. That's when Williston Senior High, New Hanover County's only African American high school, closed its doors. For Black History Month we look back at that time and what it meant for the students who called Williston home. When Williston Senior High School alumni speak of their school they do it with pride. Williston Senior High graduate Linda Pearce said, "The teachers chose whatever method it took to reach student to get to them to make them realize they could learn as well as anybody else." Williston Senior High graduate Joseph McNeil said, "Old English verse, Canterbury Tales, Chaucer, Latin, chemistry, physics -- this was a good school." Williston Senior High was the only place African-American teenagers could get an education in Wilmington. As history tells us, it was a time when racial tensions were high. Pearce said, "Well, actually we were living in a segregated world, so many of us, we really didn't know what a desegregated world was because we had not experienced that." And then 1968 arrived and brought with it, change. That's when New Hanover County schools integrated, and much to the disappointment of the African American community, Williston senior high was closed. Former Williston teacher Lethia Hankins said, "A feeling of resentment first of all, because the community knew absolutely nothing about that. There were no community meetings, no input. Bam, it was closed. So for a long period of time, there was really a period of resentment." Pearce said, "I was in Washington when my mother wrote and told me I cried for days. I could just not believe they would close our school because it was such a good school with excellent teachers." This group says losing the school was like losing a family member. Add to that being thrust into a foreign land, when students were forced to attend Hoggard or New Hanover. Pearce said, "At first it was very, very strange. Non-acceptance, you were shunned quite a bit. You were not made to feel very welcome at first." Forty years have now passed. During that time Williston Senior High reopened as Williston Middle School. But those who walked these halls first will not forget what they learned here. McNeil said, "The foundation of my thinking, my morality was born right here in Williston." Hankins said, "They were beautiful years. I cherish them, I remember them because those are the years that prepared me for who I am and what I am." During Memorial Day weekend former Williston Senior High School students from all across the country will come to Wilmington to commemorate the closing of the school, and to look back at what many called a restless time.
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