Past Times

The last goodbye for Raleigh’s Hugh Morson school

Hugh Morson served as a high school from 1925 to 1955 when it became a junior high school.
Hugh Morson served as a high school from 1925 to 1955 when it became a junior high school. Albert Barden Collection, North Carolina State Archives

Fifty years ago this week the doors closed for good on what had been Hugh Morson High School, and later Junior High. In 1998, N&O writer Treva Jones reported on the history of the beloved school.

Hugh Morson High stood at the New Bern-Person intersection, where the Federal Building is now. The school opened in 1925 and, in those days of racial segregation, served white high school students for 30 years. From 1955 until 1965, Morson was a junior high, then it was demolished.

The school was named for educator Hugh Morson, who co-founded the Raleigh Male Academy in 1878 and was principal of Raleigh High School from 1905 until 1920.

Alumni of Hugh Morson High had expected that a future school would bear the Morson name after the old one closed. But that idea was quashed by a school board policy dictating that new buildings be named for locations, not people.

In 1978, alumni donated money to build the brick monument, which bears a plaque and features two gargoyles from the old school’s facade. The gargoyles are all that remain of the building. The N&O May 15, 1998

On the final day of Morson’s life as a school, Raleigh Times News Editor A.C. Snow gave readers a glimpse into the mood among students and faculty.

How do you say goodbye to a school?

Some say it with a quick smile and a backward glance as they slip from the shadows of the building into the bright December afternoon.

Some say it with a bit of red velvet, torn from the huge curtain which has hung from the stage for 41 years. Others say it by taking with them small pieces of cement chipped by time and use from the worn steps at the front of the building.

Some say it with tears. Student Jeanne Pollard wept wetly while her friend Midge Nelson said mournfully: “We’re not just leaving a building. We’re leaving all those memories.”

Some say goodbye with a sigh while others flash a quick smile and brighten to the thought of what lies ahead – a gleaming new building, well-equipped and spacious.

But Morson, at one time the city’s only high school, is known for its strong loyalties, for its tough, almost defiant, determination and its fierce pride. The student body through the years has been composed of a rich mixture of representatives from various economic and social levels.

Mrs. W. C. Guthrie, who has taught 10 years at Morson and taught for many more years in other Raleigh schools, said, “There is a morale here you can’t find anywhere else. You can’t put your finger on it and I don’t know whether it’s the students or the principal, but there’s something unique here.

“Some of the students were wondering why they couldn’t do crayon drawings on the walls since the building will be torn down when we leave, but I reminded them that we’re leaving this building with the dignity and the respect it has earned through the years.”

“I hate to see this old building go,” sighed student Gail Shepherd as Morson Principal Jarvis Proctor walked by.

“This is not an ‘old’ building,” he laughed. “I’m the same age.”

“But you haven’t been abused as much,” said Mrs. Guthrie, and the principal laughed. “Now, I don’t know about that” as he continued down the hall.

Mrs. Annie Davis has taught school for 37 years. Eighteen of them have been spent at Morson.

“I won’t cry when we leave today,” she said. “We’re going to something new. We’re making progress. One of my students said ‘Just think, Mrs. Davis, no more Hugh Morson’ and I told her that’s not true.

“Everybody who has been to school here has his memories of Hugh Morson. They may tear the building down, but they’ll never tear Hugh Morson down as long as students have their memories.”

“This has been a comfortable building,” said Mrs. Melba Brett, former teacher and now counselor at Morson. “We have had a wonderful sense of loyalty at this school through the years. We’re a bit nostalgic about leaving, but on the other hand we’re looking forward to the progress represented in the new building.”

Outwardly, yesterday, it was school as usual. The soft hum of teacher questions and student replies could be heard in the halls. A carpenter’s hammer shattered the silence as workmen ripped away the stage sections. Already, the 41-year-old velvet curtain lay ripped and torn at the front of the auditorium.

“We’re carrying on as usual,” said Principal Proctor. “They’ll walk out of here this afternoon, and they’ll walk into the new school Monday morning.…”

How do they say goodbye to the school?

They don’t.

They don’t leave the school; they take it with them. The Raleigh Times Dec. 11, 1965

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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