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Prof. seeks to record stories about all-black school

PWM, 1926.jpg

P.W. Moore High School opened in 1923 as a school for African Americans during segregation.

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By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor

Friday, January 19, 2018

No one has written a complete history of African Americans in Elizabeth City, but one college professor says he hopes to come close.

Glen Bowman, professor of history at Elizabeth City State University, plans to begin interviews this summer of former students and teachers at the old P.W. Moore High School to record its role in local history.

Bowman found documents about P.W. Moore at the State Archives in Raleigh while working on a history of Elizabeth City State University for its 125th anniversary. He made copies but set aside the documents until his book about ECSU was completed in 2015.

"Although the book will be primarily about the high school, I will cover in the extensive introductory chapter the history of African American education in Elizabeth City and Pasqutoank County, going all the way back to the Freedman's Bureau school founded right after the end of the Civil War," Bowman said.

Bowman said that introductory chapter will help tell why the school was significant to the African-American community that was "forced into second-class citizenship" by oppressive Jim Crow laws.

"That background chapter will be necessary in order to establish just how important the school was, and to show the challenges African-Americans had to overcome in order to educate their children. I expect many will be surprised at what I have uncovered from this period," said Bowman.

P.W. Moore High School opened in 1923 at what is now Roanoke Avenue where P.W. Moore Elementary School now stands. Most of the original two-story building has been torn down, except for the old gymnasium that is still in use. Not many artifacts are left from the old days.

Bowman said the oral interviews will help save pieces of an important era before it is too late.

"P.W. Moore was not just a school -- it was arguably the center of the area's African-American community. That school shaped lives for the better. The focus of the book will be on ‘community.’ I cannot think of a better word that captures what this school was about."

The school was named after Peter Weddick Moore (1959-1934), the son of slaves, raised by a single mother after his father was allegedly killed by the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. His mother encouraged his schooling and eventually Moore graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh and became a teacher and later principal. He served as the first principal of State Normal School for the Colored Race (now Elizabeth City State University).

In 1932, shortly before Moore died, the segregated high school for blacks in Elizabeth City, previously called Paul Dunbar High School, was renamed after Moore. His grave at Oak Grove Cemetery is only a short distance from where the school once stood.

Bowman calls Moore "the most important educator in this town's history."

He said the graduates of the school are a testimony to its success despite the obstacles it had to overcome.

"If you want to see the impact of P.W. Moore High School, look around. Some people will be surprised at the prominent places alumni have reached," said Bowman.

Those graduates include Bette Jones Parker, the mayor of Elizabeth City; Eddie Davis, former state Board of Education member and city councilor for Durham; college professors, educators and professionals.

Bowman said he hopes to interview all P.W. Moore graduates before he completes his work. Bowman is aiming to release the book in Fall 2019. So far, he has not titled the book. Bowman said he wants to hear from P.W. Moore alumni before he chooses its name.

Bowman said book profits will go to the Leonard R. Ballou Fund as a way to honor ECSU's long-time archivist and to benefit history students at ECSU.

Bowman can be reached at glenbowman@ecsu.edu or at 252-335-3224.

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