The Town of Holly Springs has been honored with a Citizen Engagement Award from the N.C. League of Municipalities for its work with residents to ensure that a former school for Black children was not lost to history.
Holly Springs was among 13 cities and towns that were recognized with a Local Leadership Foundation Award during the League’s annual CityVision conference this week in Wilmington.
The months-long collaboration involving Holly Springs Town staff, former students, and community representatives resulted in the November 2020 unveiling of a historical marker for the former Holly Springs Elementary School. It stood where Hunt Recreation Center is today.
The Citizen Engagement Award honors the municipality that successfully led a program that engaged local citizens to elevate their understanding of municipal management and services. The category was one of nine for which awards and honorable mentions were announced Wednesday.
"The projects and successes happening throughout our state reveal the true impact of local leaders and our communities,” said NCLM Local Leadership Foundation President Don Kingston, Mayor of Duck. “It is an honor to recognize these award winners, who contribute so much to the state of North Carolina.”
The original plank structure for Holly Springs Elementary was built around 1924 with donations from Black citizens, county school funds, and a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation. The original plank structure was replaced by a brick classroom building in the early 1950s. A gymnasium and cafeteria were added a few years later.
Despite the disparities of a segregated system, former students recall dedicated teachers who pushed them to do their best and reach their potential. For Holly Springs’ Black residents, the school was a source of community pride.
Before demographic change resulting from the rapid growth of recent decades, Holly Springs was a small, largely minority community. Public awareness of that period of the town’s history is limited, in part because of the large proportion of relative newcomers.
The school recognition project began in February 2020 with in-house production of a video on the school’s history. To ensure community consensus on the marker text, Town staff enlisted the assistance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee. Town staff determined specifications and a manufacturer for the marker, which was paid for with Town funds.
The former school site is part of a mobile, interactive Black History Tour that the Town launched this year in another collaborative effort with Town residents.