ELIZABETHTOWN — Ms. Hattie McDowell, one of the instrumental figures in getting the first high school for blacks in Bladen County was honored recently at the Paul R. Brown Building in Elizabethtown.
The Julius Rosenwald Foundation was established to give matching funds to communities to help build schools for blacks in the South. Once it was verified that such a school would be built in Bladen County, McDowell stepped forward and donated a plot of land located on what is now Martin Luther King Drive on which the school could be built.
Ms. Hattie, a Bladen County native, was raised in the Brown Creek area. She was one of six children born to Hannah and Sam McDowell. Other siblings were Harriett, Dora, Eddie, David and John McDowell. Even though they were a close-knit family, Hattie always had aspirations of a better life. In order to accomplish this she left Elizabethtown and moved to Greenwich, Conn. There she received most of her education and learned the value of an education. When she learned about the prospect of the Rosenwald School in the county, in an effort to help improve educational opportunities for blacks in Bladen County, she eagerly donated 10 acres of land for the school.
Bladen County Training School, the first high school for blacks in Bladen County, opened in September 1928 with five teachers including the principal Mr. Paul R. Brown. Mr. Brown served as vocational agriculture teacher for the local farmers as well as the students of the school. Students came from the most remote areas of the county. They walked, rode wagons and cars, or lived in private homes during the first years.
In 1956 the name was changed to Bladen Central High School. Principal Charles Deberry initiated the name change. There was some misunderstanding of the graduates’ records which showed they had graduated from a “training school.” From a school featuring pot-bellied stoves, outhouses, a library containing one hundred eighteen volumes and a teacher load of 40 to 43 students per teacher, this school grew and achieved both state and regional accreditation.
During the desegregation and consolidation of schools in the early seventies, students above the sixth grade were transferred to Elizabethtown Junior High School and East Bladen High School. The school was renamed Bladen Elementary School. Today it houses a part of the Paul Brown Leadership Academy, the first public charter military academy in North Carolina.
Little did Ms. Hattie McDowell know the impact of her donation. That school has graduated doctors, lawyers, educators, pilots, politicians, business men and women and hundreds of other citizens who have made valuable contributions to society.
The affair was sponsored by Bladen County Youth Focus and BCTS-BCHS Alumni Association.
Dorothy McKoy is a Bladen County resident and regular contributor to the Bladen Journal.