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Memory of Rollins School lives on

Jan 30, 2020 10:49AM

First in a series of stories focusing on important local African-American places and people during Black History Month

By Alan Hodge

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Since February is officially known as Black History Month, it seems fitting to recognize a chapter in Mount Holly’s African-American heritage that is too often forgotten and whose only tangible evidence of having ever existed at all is a stone monument near the Rollins Apartments on South Hawthorne Street. 

What the stone marks is the location where the A.M. Rollins School stood from 1930-1969. The school was unique in that it was where all of Mount Holly’s black children in grades one through eight were educated before public schools were integrated in the late 1960s. 

The Rollins School was originally called the Mount Holly Colored School, but was later named after its first principal, A.M. Rollins. There was also another school for African-American kids in the Lucia community, with just one teacher for all grades. This school eventually was merged with the Rollins School, meaning all African-American children in the area made the trek to S. Hawthorne St. 

Teachers at the Rollins School who needed a place to live and who had trouble finding transportation often stayed at the nearby home of Mrs. Roceda Bailey. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of

1964, schools began to integrate and in 1969, Rollins School was closed. For a short time, the school building was used as a community center, but like the Reid High School in Belmont about the same time, Rollins was relegated to the wrecking ball.

But the memory and spirit of the Rollins School would not die. In the mid-1990s a group known as the Black History Committee and led by the late John Hope in Mount Holly began working on a project to commemorate the school and the work that had gone on there. 

Through fund-raisers, corporate and private sponsorships, and the sale of brick pavers engraved with the names of donors, an eight-foot granite monument and “Memory Walk” sidewalk in honor of the Rollins School was constructed where the school had once stood. 

The granite monument is engraved with a likeness of the school as well as the names of principals Rollins and Willie McDuffie. In front of the monument are three granite pavers bearing the names of notable Mount Holly African-Americans such as  Hope, City Manager Danny Jackson, and Mount Holly Sports Hall of Fame member John Farrar. The culmination of the project came on Sept. 12, 2009 with an unveiling of the monument and speeches by Mount Holly civic leaders. 

Monuments and speeches are good, but the impact that the Rollins School had on students is perhaps greater. Before he passed away on June 28, 2016, Hope recalled his days from 1959-1967 when he was a student there. 

“I loved the Rollins School,” he said “It was more like a family than a school. Everyone took care of everyone else. The principal, Mr. Rollins, knew all the families and was a great man.” 

Hope pointed out with pride that he was later a member of the same college fraternity as Rollins, Kappa Alpha Psi.

Today, Ida Rankin Elementary is where students, black and white, in the Hawthorne St. area of Mount Holly attend classes, but the memory of the Rollins School that was located just a couple of hundred yards down the road, lives on.