WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)- Amanda Fitzpatrick sat down with Williston Middle School teacher Laura Butler to talk about the history at Williston and how it has impacted our community.
According to Butler Willistons history goes all the way back to the era of Reconstruction following the Civil War, there has been a Williston school. According to Cape Fear Museum, Williston Primary School opened on S. 7th Street in 1866 with 300 students to start. Williston Industrial School followed, opening in 1915, then Williston Senior High was finished in 1952, which is the building housing Williston Middle School today. For nearly 100 years, Williston teachers instilled a high standard of education, gentility, and pride in their students, and the school served as the heart of the community. From sports to marching band, Glee Club to academic excellence and mentorship, Williston served the youth of the community with integrity and love. Community events such as dances, concerts, guest speakers, and voter drives were held on Williston campus, and by all accounts, African American students couldn’t wait to be old enough to attend Williston, calling it “The Greatest School Under the Sun.”
On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was scheduled to speak at a voting drive at Williston Sr. High. As we know, he was called to travel to Memphis instead, where he was assassinated. Following this devastating event, the African American community was soon to suffer another deep loss; the closure of Williston Sr. High. Rather than equitable integration and redistricting, the 1968 Board of Education voted to close Williston at the end of the school year. Students and teachers were sent to New Hanover High and Hoggard where they were no longer treated like scholars and sports heroes. Teachers were no longer revered, but often endured having parents pull their white children from their classes. By 1971, this wound had festered, and finally resulted in a group of African American students banding together to write a list of demands, and boycott Hoggard High. Rather than positive change, this erupted into violence in Wilmington’s streets, the death of an African American teen, and the further tragedy of these students being tried and imprisoned. Ultimately, Gov. Beverly Purdue issued pardons of innocence in 2012. These tragedies are keenly felt by the Community today. The Williston Sr. High alumni commemorated 50 years last year, since the closing of their school, and they are still devoted to the memory of The Greatest School under the Sun, and devoted to each other. It is such an honor to know several of them and to get to experience vicariously the love they have for each other and the legacy of Williston.
To learn more on the history of Williston you can watch the full interview above.