Early African American Schools in Winston-Salem

Forsyth County Public Library recently contributed two collections of materials relating to African-American schools in the Winston-Salem area.

Atkins High School basketball team, 1951-1952. It was the first of the school's three consecutive state championship wins (1951-1952, 1952-1953, and 1953-1954).

Atkins High School basketball team, 1951-1952. It was the first of the school’s three consecutive state championship wins (1951-1952, 1952-1953, and 1953-1954).

These photographs provide a rare view of early African American high schools in Winston-Salem. The first school, Columbia Heights (also known as Columbian Heights) Colored Grade School, began as a three-room building in Winston-Salem around 1905. In 1913 it was enlarged, and in 1917 Columbia Heights Grade and High School became the second high school for Black students in Winston-Salem. In 1922 and again in 1929, the booming school was renovated and expanded. Still it was too small, and in 1931 the high school students moved to the brand-new Atkins High School (so named for the principal of Columbia Heights, Simon Atkins). The Digital Heritage Center has digitized the last two class portraits from Columbia Heights High School before students moved to Atkins High School, as well as photographs from Atkins High School, 1932-1965.

For more African-American school history in Winston-Salem (including more on the historic context of Black education in the South), see the National Register of Historic Places document for Atkins High School.

Memorial Industrial School PosterThe Memorial Industrial School was one of only two Black orphanages in North Carolina.  The Colored Baptist Orphanage Home, as it was known, opened in 1906 to serve homeless children in the Belview area of Winston-Salem, though it moved eight miles north in 1928. It operated until 1971, providing students with academic as well as agricultural and domestic education.

DigitalNC now hosts materials dating from 1926-1964 that document the history of the school and its pupils, including commencement programs and annual reports. Some of the richest information comes from the applications to the Orphan Section of the Duke Endowment. These requests include lists of boards of directors, demographic information of the children living at the orphanage, facility and library information, education, and other information. The school’s campus, situated on 425 acres, was also funded by The Duke Endowment as well as by the local Reynolds and Gray families. Also useful are the floor plans and blueprints of parts of the school, mostly dating from an auction sale.

The Forsyth Historic County Resources Commission has more information on the history of the Memorial Industrial School.

To browse all materials from Forsyth County Public Library, including newly digitized materials from Winston-Salem Women’s clubs, please click here.


Discuss this Post

DigitalNC Blog Header Image


This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features the latest news and highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from organizations across North Carolina.

Social Media Policy

Search the Blog



Email subscribers can choose to receive a daily, weekly, or monthly email digest of news and features from the blog.

Newsletter Frequency
RSS Feed