The staggering and stark, yet sobering realities about the Warren County education system of years past, coupled with the hard-to-come facts about the current state of the Warren County public school system, set the tone for a vigorous conversation during the second roundtable in the “Liberating Futures: Erasures, Reckonings, and Transformations”.
The series is provided as part of a collaborative project between the 1921 Project, the Warren County Branch of the NAACP, the Warren County African American Historical Collective, and UNC’s Humanities for the Public Good Initiative.
Held at the Warren County Memorial Library in the Community Meeting Hall, the day began when Jereann King Johnson of the 1921 Project challenged the room by sharing one of his expected takeaways of the day: “Remembering the persistence of African Americans in building educational institutions and schools, leadership and development, strategic planning and actions that center children and families around enriched outcomes.
Short but descriptive, captivating and powerful stories and personal accounts of historical figures such as John Hyman and Rosenwald schools, as well as personal accounts of two black students who played a central role in the desegregation of schools in Warren County, were shared. The day’s engaging moderator, Doris Terry Williams, Rural Education Officer and Senior Consultant for the Rural School and Community Trust, set the tone for an eye-opening discussion designed to connect the topics shared by each panelist.
Williams challenged the audience to think about the question, “What is the purpose of education?” while highlighting four talking points that each panelist would present and expand on.
Introducing the first point, “Black education is a subversive act”, she underscored the fact that “there has never been a collective public will to educate black, poor or rural students to a high standard. ; so it’s about all of us.
The second point of discussion was “Education for Liberation”. During his introduction, Williams said, “We have won the right to insurrection, black, white and rural, and poor. We have won the right to demand education for liberation. If we don’t fight for ourselves, the fight will not be won.
Third, the discussion point was “Connecting school and communities”. Williams reminded the room that “education for liberation is not the province of schools alone. It is the responsibility of a much larger system that includes us all. The voice and genuine engagement of community members is therefore important.
The fourth discussion point introduced was “Leadership for Liberating Education”, emphasizing that “liberating education takes leadership with courage, vision and a genuine concern for the community and others”.
The panel consisted of Sarah Montgomery, Senior Policy Analyst, North Carolina Justice Center; Rodney D. Pierce, educator, historian and writer; Carla Norwood, Warren County parent and executive director of Working Landscapes; and Jennifer Sims, chairwormman, Woman County School Board.
The “Liberating Futures: Erasures, Reckonings, and Transformations” public roundtable series will continue each Saturday through June 11 at 11 a.m. at the Warren County Memorial Library, 119 S. Front St., Warrenton. The schedule for upcoming discussions is as follows:
• May 28: Black Progressive Thought: Uncovers the longstanding legacy of progressive anti-racism work in Warren County, from early education reform initiatives to civil rights struggles to contemporary activism.
• June 4: Links to Land Sharecropping, Black Land Ownership, and Black Land Loss: Interrogates the systems that have simultaneously connected black farming families to the land and challenged their ability to own the fields in which they have worked for so many generations.
• June 11: Descendant Stories: Traces the long-standing legacy of the lynchings of Plummer Bullock and Alfred Williams in Warren County in 1921, and the associated 1921 imprisonment of 16 black men accused of defending their neighborhood of Norlina against a menacing white mob, through the stories of family members.