Author: Mary Beth Fitts, Assistant State Archaeologist
Above: Brenda Moore, member of the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe stands outside her childhood school, Waccamaw Indian School.
North Carolina’s 1868 constitution, written when the state re-joined the United States after the Civil War, created a public school system free for all the children of the state aged 6 to 21. In 1875, the state constitution was amended to specify that “the children of the white race and the children of the colored race shall be taught in separate public schools.” Many members of American Indian communities were concerned for the quality of their children’s education in this segregated school system. They successfully petitioned the state legislature to create public schools that would train and employ American Indian educators. The first was Croatan Normal School, which opened in 1887 and ultimately became the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Unlike federal boarding schools established in the late nineteenth century to assimilate American Indian children into American culture, North Carolina’s American Indian Schools were supported by the communities they served and remain a matter of local pride. However, many of the earliest schools are no longer standing and first-hand knowledge about them is quickly disappearing as elders pass away. In consultation with the NC Commission of Indian Affairs, the Office of State Archaeology began developing a database to record the locations of as many American Indian Schools as possible, along with historical references and personal recollections of former students.
We started this project with the assistance of a Historically Black College and University/Minority Institutions of Higher Education Summer Internship, an educational program of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. In 2018, intern Molefi Henderson worked with OSA staff to gather information such as historic aerial images and land records for mapping former school locations on the landscape. He also spoke with members of many of the state’s American Indian communities to identify schools they remembered and met with members of the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe in Columbus County.
During our visit to Columbus County, representatives of the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe led OSA staff to the locations of four former schools: Doe Head School (ca. 1885–1921), St. Mark’s School (1919–1939), Hickory Hill School (1923–ca. 1954), and Wide Awake Indian School (1934–1952). We also visited the Waccamaw Indian School (1954–1969), which has been converted into business offices by a tribal member. As we walked the grounds our guides, former students of this school, reminisced about the activities that took place in each building, their teachers, other students, and memorable events.
This work has resulted in a database that so far contains 55 American Indian Schools. We look forward to continuing this project by adding more schools to the database and assisting in their preservation. Do you know about the location of a former American Indian school, or did you attend one? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
-Brenda Moore in front of her school: image by NC Office of State Archaeology
-Croatan Normal School: The Croatan Indians of Sampson County by George E. Butler
-1960 aerial image: from NC Office of State Archaeology
-OSA staff with Waccamaw-Siouan community member: image by NC Office of State Archaeology