HIGH POINT, N.C., April 28, 2015 – It was a cornerstone of High Point’s African American community for more than 70 years, and its memories linger after doors closed in 1968.
Now, the history of the former William Penn High School, the city’s black high school before desegregation, is about to be retold. A website documenting findings from The William Penn Project, developed by High Point University students, will be unveiled at 6 p.m. on April 30 at the High Point Museum. The event is free and open to the public.
The project consists of hundreds of hours of research by HPU students in a service learning history course called The History Detectives, as well as research from service learning students at Penn-Griffin School of the Arts.
After a brief introduction from HPU history professor and project director Paul Ringel, students will introduce the website. They will then break out into individual presentations that will show their work over the course of the year and allow guests the opportunity to ask questions and offer feedback.
Their work compiles audio and video interviews with alumni from the school, as well as documents, artifacts and photos that highlight some of the school’s major events and experiences. These include the Civil Rights era sit-ins at a Woolworth lunch counter in High Point, the school’s popular marching band and athletic teams, and what life in general was like for a black teenagers at that time.
“Our students interviewed people who grew up in a time completely different from theirs and have a completely different perspective,” says Ringel, who notes that their work will be released on the website in batches throughout the coming months. “Other students in future courses will continue the work, ensuring that this website digs deeply and thoughtfully into the stories of William Penn.”
For the HPU students, their efforts have created a strong bond with the nearby Washington Street district. For the Penn-Griffin students, they have learned the history contained within their hallways, a portion of which is the former William Penn High School.
“In this project, instead of being students of history, we were historians,” says Justin Cummings, an HPU junior from Maryland. “The project involved researching, but also connecting with people. Many of them have opened up to me right away.”
Before and after the website launches, community members can also connect with the students and the project via its Facebook page or on Twitter @WilliamPennProj.