A ‘truth plaque’ in recognition of the first Freedman School in the county was unveiled in Carrboro on Aug. 9 next to St. Paul A.M.E Church.
The plaque reads: “Green Cordal & Benjamin Craig, freed from bondage, purchased this land for a Freedman School and church. With funds from the Society of Friends, they built a schoolhouse that served hundreds of free Black children and adults.”
The truth plaque on the Freedman school is the second one installed by a local task force. The Town has stated its goal for the truth plaques is to uplift the truth and recognize an unjust past while explaining Carrboro’s history.
An important part of that history was the Freedman school, which first opened as a private school in 1868.
Cordal and Craig bought a plot of land in 1866 near the current intersection of West Franklin Street and Merritt Mill Road. A portion was donated to the Quakers to establish the school and the remaining area was donated to create a church, now St. Paul A.M.E Church.
Braxton Foushee is a Chapel Hill-Carrboro native and member of the Truth Plaque Task Force, a group made up of local residents.
Foushee spearheaded the idea of establishing a plaque at the school as the task force's next project. He said education was important to both Cordal and Craig.
“Education (was) key to free Blacks at that time,” Foushee said. “It's still an important piece of the upward mobility of Black folks, education, and so I thought it was that important that that should be the next plaque that we work on."
The first truth plaque, unveiled in April 2019 at Carrboro Town Hall, recognizes Julian Carr, the town’s namesake, and his ties to racial segregation. He was a former Confederate Soldier and white supremacist known for his speech given at the dedication of Silent Sam.
“He was also an active and influential participant in Jim Crow-era efforts to create a system of racial segregation," the plaque reads. "Although the town continues to bear his name, the values and actions of Carr do not represent Carrboro today."
Richard Ellington, unofficial town historian and member of the task force, said that the Freedman School operated as a private school because the county was not funding it.
“So it wasn't that it was a private academy, it's just that it was just a school that was there to function to teach these kids to read and write," Ellington said. "It was paramount that these kids get some sort of education and this was the simplest, easiest way to start.”
In 1890, the school expanded, as the Orange County school system provided supplies and teachers to serve Black children in grades 1-7. In 1910, the number of teachers increased to three and almost 130 students were enrolled. Later in 1917, the school ended its operations when it was combined with the Orange County Training School — now the Lincoln Center — on Merritt's Mill Road.
Foushee said some of the task force members and community members weren’t aware of the school and its history before he brought it up to them.
"Now they understand the plight that Black folk had — to get the education that was taken away that folks didn’t want them to have," he said.
And Foushee is glad that the plaque is educating more members of the community now.
"I'm just happy that it got out," Foushee said. "The history behind it is known now by the committee and the people in town.”