As the current Garner High School building on Spring Drive gets set to be rebuilt, we take a look back at the history of the school, which was among the first in the Wake County school system to integrate black and white students.
Garner Senior High School was built in 1968 on Spring Drive. Students from Garner High, a white school, and high school-aged students from Garner Consolidated joined as one school that fall. Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The News & Observer in March 1968, when the Wake County Board of Education gave the OK to shut down classes at the all-black schools so that desegration could take place.
The Wake County Board of Education agreed Monday to shut down high school classes at Garner Consolidated School and Lockhart School in Knightdale at the end of the current school year.
High school students attending the two Negro schools will be reshuffled through a “freedom of choice” plan enabling them to choose the school they will attend in 1968-69.
The school board adopted the resolution Monday calling for the discontinuance of high school classes at Garner Consolidated and reaffirmed its Feb. 28 decision to reassign secondary school students now enrolled at Lockhart.
Closing of the secondary classes are efforts to meet federal desegregation requirements decreed by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Grades one through 12 are now offered at the two “union” schools.
The board’s final approval followed public hearings at the schools at which no opposition to the proposed desegregation plans developed. The board’s approval Monday was routine.
Affected by the board’s action will be about 400 secondary students in Garner and about 120 students at Lockhart School.
The board noted in its resolution that the small high school enrollments “would preclude the offering sufficiently enriched high school programs to allow pupils to attain a resonable portion of their educational potential within the forseeable future.”
The plan for Garner Consolidated calls for students enrolled in grades 11 and 12 at the Negro school and at the white Garner High to attend the new Garner Senior High School which is now under construction.
Students in grades eight, nine and 10 at Garner Consolidated will be transferred to the present Garner High School. Students currently enrolled in the seventh grade at Garner Consolidated will attend Garner Elementary School.
Students in grades one through six at Garner Consolidated will remain at that school in 1968-69. But the following year Garner Consolidated will become an elementary school for students of all races in the Garner attendance area.
When the new Garner High School is fully completed in the fall of 1969, the present Garner High will become a junior high school for students in Garner.
In connection with the decisions to close secondary classes at the two Negro schools, the board agreed to hold a series of public hearings in all sections of Wake County to discuss the school system with county residents.
Purpose of the hearings will be to tell residents of the county about the board’s future plans, proposed school sites and the system’s proposed building programs.
“If the people want to come and tell us we are a bunch of bums, then that would be an appropriate time,” said Chairman Ferd Davis of Zebulon.
The first hearing was tentatively set for March 26 at Fuquay-Varina.
I caught up with Garner Senior High’s first principal, Wayne Bare, who gave me his perspective from that time. Bare remains proud to be one of the first principals of an integrated school in Wake County. He said many efforts were made to make sure everyone was comfortable with one another before the school opened. Students at Garner High and Garner Consolidated spent a few hours visiting each other’s schools and communicating with their future classmates.
“School opening was fairly typical without any upheaval from students,” Bare said. “There were concerns about the building (because it was not finished when school started). So we had to adjust building use, because we couldn’t use the front entrance. The cafeteria equipment was not installed and the food was cooked at a neighborhing school and brought over and served to our students in the library for several months. Part of that took away from focusing on its (being) newly integrated school because we had other things to worry about.”
Bare said the perception around the county was that Garner was not open to desegregation because they were so close to Johnston County, which was known for being a place that did not welcome the idea of integration at the time.
He said however, he found that those in Garner were accepting of the move.
“I feel that by and large, students who came at that time to the senior high school had a higher degree of acceptance than in other places,” he said.
Bare said one of the more difficult things included the hiring of coaches. Bare said he hired based on qualifications.
“The fact that we named a minority as the head basketball coach did ruffle some feathers, but the coach had been highly successful at Garner Consolidated and he was successful at Garner Senior High,” Bare said.
That coach’s name was James Farris, who was inducted into the Garner Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.
But putting together a cheerleading squad was even more difficult, he said.
“That was difficult because there was a different style of cheering done in the two previous schools,” Bare said. “They had different practices. some did more gymnastic type cheering. Others had been doing more of a rhythm or chant. I felt I had to make some adminstrative moves to make sure when we fielded a cheerleading squad that they weren’t all white.”