Black History Month: Raleigh's Washington School celebrates rich tradition

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nestled south of the Raleigh skyline is one of the city's oldest segregated schools for blacks. It was founded in 1923 as Washington School, a primary and secondary school. Today, it's a gifted magnet school on the National Register of Historic Places.

"Its survival has been of significant importance," said Florence Francis. The 94-year-old Francis is a proud alumna -- entering Washington School at age 5 in the 1930s during Jim Crow and the Great Depression. School books and supplies were second rate.

But she said teachers made students feel first class.

Her fondest memories include being the only female performing in band.

"I played the clarinet. And only recently got rid of it," Francis said.

Another of her special memories is making headlines graduating from Washington with her mother at the city's first black public high school.

For 66-year-old Donald Mial, it's walking this hall with classmates and playing football out front.

"It just gives you a sense of pride. A sense of honor," Mial said. "We have come full circle but we've still got work to do."

In 1971, Washington School integrated. And since then, Principal Bob Grant says alumni often come back to share memories.

Grant was Kia Keith's fourth-grade teacher in the 1990s. Now Keith's son is a first-grader.

'It's like a family tradition because mostly all my family went here, too," Keith said.

It's a tradition spanning generations -- now more than 95 years.

Current students are learning about Washington's legacy this month.

"I feel like it has a lot of history and you shouldn't let that history go away," Pharrell Anderson said.

A school with deep roots is connecting past and present students.

"We hope they stand on our shoulders," Francis said.
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