“We have a righted a wrong”: Board votes to name elementary school for Frederick Douglass
By Drew C. Wilson, Wilson Daily Times, 19 February 2018.
The Wilson County Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to rename Elm City Elementary School after abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
All six board members supported the proposal. Board member Robin Flinn was absent from the meeting.
“I am just proud of them for understanding and knowing that it was time,” said Alice Freeman, a 1964 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School and a former president of the Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association.
The effort to rename the school was led by alumni association members who have made multiple requests to adopt the Douglass name going back to the early 1970s.
“I am very happy and I am just so proud of our organization and the hard work that it took,” Freeman said. “I am just really proud of the school board because they realized the importance of it. They realized our contributions. They realized that after 40 years, almost 50 years, we have remained active. We’ve got good folks and we are going to move forward with this. We’re just excited.”
Bill Myers, a former teacher at Frederick Douglass High School, said after the decision that it was hard to put his feelings at the moment into words.
“I can’t even express it really. We have righted a wrong,” Myers said.
“The question should have been ‘Why change the name in the first place?’ So to do it now is just electrifying,” Myers said.
Elm City Elementary has been named after the community in which it is located since 1970, when integration began in Wilson County. The school was named Frederick Douglass High School from 1939 to 1969. During that time it was attended by members of the African-American population in Wilson County. In 1970, former Frederick Douglass students joined students at Elm City High School to form an integrated school.
Though Elm City Elementary has undergone multiple renovations since 1970, two major portions of the school, the auditorium and the gymnasium, were originally part of Frederick Douglass High School.
The original Douglass auditorium.
The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association has a long history of financial support of Elm City Elementary and Elm City Middle.
“I’m just tickled to death, particularly for all those kids that were here tonight and the association that has been doing so much to promote and keep the thing going,” Myers said. “They have been giving away money, scholarships, everything, every year and this is why I wanted to be here to do this, for them.”
Myers said he felt a major part of this effort to rename the school and regain the 30-year legacy of the high school.
“This was my first teaching job over here and I feel very much still a part of it,” Myers said. “I am happy for them. I am happy that this board could see through that and try to rectify something that happened that was definitely wrong.”
According to Lane Mills, superintendent of Wilson County Schools, costs associated with changing the name of Elm City Elementary School would be about $11,353.
The costs would include $4,317 for staff long-sleeve and short-sleeve T-shirts, $2,500 for a new school marquee, $800 for a new school sign, $704 to replace the rugs at the entrances, $450 for new checks, receipts, a deposit stamp, $450 for new PTO checks and deposit slips, $250 for school pencils, $200 for school stamps and $200 for ink pens, plus other miscellaneous items.
The original Douglass gymnasium.
Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, August 2019.