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Historians trying to save one of Charlotte’s oldest African-American schools

Updated: Dec. 12, 2019 at 12:41 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Whether you recognize it or not, the way things are now has a lot to do with what has already happened in history. Historians will tell you it’s important that we never forget what’s been done and that’s why there’s a push to save a historic African-American school in North Charlotte.

County and city leaders have already put up a total of $175,000 because they care, and now historians are looking at you to help pitch in to preserve the building.

If only the wooden beams on the 1920’s structure could talk, the ugly history of racism and segregation would hit us right in between the eyes.

“That’s not a distant past that can or should be forgotten,” said Adria Focht, the president and CEO of Charlotte Museum of History.

The historic Siloam school was built during the Jim Crow era. Focht says Charlotte can’t have a future, if we all don’t know the city’s past.

“Truly, how do we know our identity? How do we know how we got to the issues that we face today?” she asked.

Julius Rosenwald who was the leader of Sears at that time helped to give little black boys and girls who were descendants of slaves their first shot at an education. It’s part of history many don’t like to talk about.

“This is such an important piece of Charlotte’s history,” Focht added.

It’s a miracle that the school still stands 100 years later, but there’s a chance it’ll be lost forever. Focht says when you see it in person, it makes what happened back then real.

“You feel that patina of students and labor and the pride that they took in that school,” said Focht.

That’s why money is being raised to restore it.

“That brings it to light to everyone how important it is,” she said.

There are no pictures or archives from that era and according to historians, there’s only one person alive that could speak to the history of the building, but he’s in memory care now and physically can’t.

“There’s not an alumni foundation. There’s not a church community. In fact, the church itself has burned down...really the cemetery and the school are all that’s left,” added Focht.

There’s already been other black historic areas in Charlotte that were practically wiped away and reshaped. What used to be the Brooklyn Village in Second Ward is not what it used to be. It was once a thriving community in the 60’s, and the only prominent thing standing there now is the gym.

“So much of that has been lost and I hope that’s a lesson learned for the Charlotte and Mecklenburg community,” said Focht.

Focht says there can be promise in the pain from the past, as long as we recognize it, remember it and continue to strive for a better future.

Anyone is able to donate, you can do so here. If enough money is raised, the plan is to find highly skilled architects that can bring the building back to life by the year 2023.

There used to 26 African-American schools in Charlotte. Today, there are only seven still standing, including Siloam school.

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