By Gordon Anderson
My first choice of major when I entered East Carolina University in the fall of 1998 was history. I can’t really say why other than that I must have been sort of good at it in high school – I remember doing well on a final one year and having my teacher exasperatedly tell me that if I’d worked that hard all year, I could have made an A (sorry Mrs. Hodges; but I really was fine with the B minus). I also always liked pirates. I dunno.
I don’t even think I was ever made to formally declare history as my major, and I eventually ended up earning a degree in psychology, which, yes, means I can read your mind. I can’t believe what you really think about the Rant.
I probably wouldn’t have made a great historian anyway, because I’m more likely to pull up Wikipedia for the broad strokes of how General Sherman pulled off his upset defeat of Socrates at Lillehammer than I am to engage in any kind of research-based scholarship or whatever. But something about dropping history has nagged at me as I’ve gotten older.
I think part of it comes from a career working in news and politics. It’s hard to be any good at either if you don’t really get what made a place come to be to begin with and what continues to make it tick. And while I had known for a long time that the W.B. Wicker School had a deep history and significance to Lee County that I was somewhat familiar with, I had a lot of fun diving into that topic for the cover story of this here publication you’re holding (or reading digitally, but that’s less fun to say).
I grew up a world away in California and didn’t even live in the south until 1994, and it wasn’t for a couple more years that I would move to Sanford. So when I learned about the Wicker School back in the mid 2000s, when it was being renovated for use by Central Carolina Community College, it was one of the first times I can remember looking at a building and realizing what a concrete example it was of some of our country’s uglier history. I’d of course known in theory that people were so openly discriminated against based on skin color up through the late 60s, and by government no less, but that was from textbooks. Here was brick and mortar proof.
There was a lot to dig through regarding Wicker’s past, and I wasn’t able to squeeze everything I learned into the story. But my biggest takeaway from talking to people who attended as children during the segregation era was the pride they took in their school – and that they still do. Everyone I spoke to was basically jubilant about the fact that it’s going to reopen and serve as a place for educating anyone who attends.
I guess you don’t need a degree in history to appreciate an example of recognizing the past and using it to inform your view of the future as it unfolds before you. I know a lot of the people reading this already got it, but writing and researching this piece gave me a better understanding of a city I’ve lived in for the past 20-plus years. It would be cool if that happened every day.