The firemen said the children stood and cried as they watched their school burn. The fire broke out about 9 a.m. on Thursday, March 9th, 1916. A defective flue had set the roof on fire. The Greensboro Daily News reported that the fire department had responded promptly, but a break in the hydrant occurred and they had to wait until more hose could be brought to reach another source for water.
The Daily News noted that the children were “marshaled out under the direction of the cool-headed principal, C.W. Foushee.”. The Green Street Graded School sat on Green Street in the heart of the African American community in Statesville. The fire department needed 2,800 feet of hose to finally put water on the fire, but the entire building was on fire by then and was completely destroyed. The paper claimed “The negro Baptist church would doubtless have burned had not the church pool furnished water to aid in fighting the fire from the building.”
The one-story frame building was injured for $2,750 and the furnishings for $750. Most of the school’s furnishings and books were saved, but the buildings value was estimated to be between five and six thousand. The cost and World War I forced the students to have classes in church and fraternal halls until a new building was finally erected on the site of the old one in 1921.
The new school’s first principal, Charles W. Foushee, named the school Morningside Colored School. It contained eight classrooms, an office, lavatory facilities, a small auditorium, and a heating plant. By 1923 the school was offering grades one through seven of elementary classes and two years of high school (grades eighth and ninth). In 1928 a tenth and eleventh grade was added and the first high school class of twelve girls and one boy graduated that year.
Morningside was built during a time of racial segregation and there were no buses for its students. Morningside was often referred to as the “colored school” or the “Green Street School” and was part of the city of Statesville’s school system. For years Morningside was the only African American high school in Iredell and the surrounding counties.
To continue their education with higher class’s kids from the far ends of Iredell and even Rowan County had to travel to Statesville to attend Morningside. Students had to walk to Morningside or else be driven by someone and students coming from great distances often boarded with families on Green and Garfield streets to further their education.
In 1942, a six-room school building was built on six acres of land on the corner of Garfield Street and Elm. This building, which is still there, became the Morningside High School while the original 1921 building on Green Street continued as an elementary with both named Morningside. In 1949, a $90,000 gym, auditorium, and library were added to the six-room high school building. In 1952, a lighted athletic field was developed and put into use by the Morningside Golden Tigers.
Morningside High School became prominent across N.C. The Morningside Golden Tigers won both a state and national championship in sports. The school newspaper, The Oracle” won national awards and was the “Voice of the Morningside Student Body.” The school excelled academically. In 1930 the school was accredited by the North Carolina Department of Education. In 1952 the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools approved the high school and in 1957 it was accredited. In 1963, Morningside was granted full membership in the Southern Association.
Iredell County had its own school system, and had as many as 40 one-room black schools at one time, but they did not have a high school for African Americans until 1941 when Unity High School was built as the high school for students living outside of Statesville. Unity would soon have the largest student body of any school in Iredell. Mooresville had its own school system and its own African American high school named Dunbar.
All three of Iredell County’s African American High Schools closed when the school system became integrated in 1969. Morningside held its last graduating class on May 30, 1968. It continued as an integrated K-6 elementary school with an integrated staff. In March of 1971 the school was renamed the Alan D. Rutherford School in honor of the former principal and school administrator who succeeded Dr. Frank A. Toliver.
The Statesville City school system can trace its beginnings back to 1891 when the first white and black graded schools were built and opened. The graded school system was the beginning of the modern government operated and tax supported school system we have today. There were numerous schools both white and black prior to that in Iredell, but these were community schools operated and financially supported by the community around them. They usually operated independently from each other and often lacked educational structure such as grading levels. Local parents with varying degrees of education themselves often served as the teachers.
Morningside’s ancestor, which burned in 1916, began in 1891 as an elementary school in a two-room frame building on what is today 611 Green Street. It was known as the Colored Free School and had two teachers, Maggie Sellars and Alma J. Carter. Statesville at the time was a small rural town and was racially divided, but both its black and white citizens believed earnestly that education was the key to providing a brighter future with better opportunities for their children. Then, as now, loving parents wanted their children to have it better and go further than they did.
Charles Webster Foushee was born in Moore County, N.C. and came to Statesville as the principal of the Colored Free School in 1905. Under his leadership the school grew from a small three-teacher elementary school to a 16-teacher high school by the time of his death on July 23, 1935. He was replaced by Frank A. Tolliver who had been a teacher at Morningside. Principal Tolliver was later replaced by Alan. D. Rutherford.
Over the years an additional school annex building was later built behind the original 1921 Morningside School at 611 S. Green Street. The original building and annex were purchased from the Statesville school system for $11,500 in April of 1972 by Lonnie P. Davis, Sr., an assistant principal at Oakwood Junior High School. The 1921 two-story building was later demolished leaving only the schools annex building. The Peterson and Mangum Funeral Home at 206 Garfield St., was then moved to occupy the school annex building at 611 Green St., where it became the Davis and Mangum Mortuary. This annex building, now empty, still sits behind a beautiful historical marker dedicated on Sept. 2, 2006, where the original 1921 building stood.
In 2011 Harriet Morrison Foster, a 1954 graduate of Morningside along with Kenneth Byers, A.E. Peterson, Elaine B. Grant and Julia M. Scott created and donated two scrapbooks of photos and memorabilia of their beloved high school and these are now on display in the Local History Room at the library in Statesville as part of Black History Month. Statesville Mayor Constantine H. Kutteh declared the first Saturday in September to be observed annually as Morningside School Day on Aug. 20, 2007. George Wilson who graduated from Morningside with the Class of 1958 once declared, “The school was just like church. It meant everything.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article was published in the Statesville Record and Landmark on Feb. 7, 2022 under the title of, “Morningside, Unity schools have storied history,” on page 1.