About the Project
The William Penn Project is a product of classes in the High Point University Department of History during the 2014-2016 academic years. Below are the goals that the students and their professor, Dr. Paul Ringel, formulated for the Project.
Thanks first and foremost to all the William Penn alumni who shared their time and memories with us. Your stories have reshaped our ways of thinking, and your generosity has touched us deeply. We appreciate you all, and need to single out a few individuals who offered extraordinary support. Dorothy Collins and Mary Lou Blakeney connected us to fellow alumni and patiently answered our seemingly endless questions. Julius Clark offered several of us tours of the Rosetta C. Baldwin African-American Museum and became a primary source of information on the marching band. Hank Pressley is our foremost champion among William Penn alumni. He advocated for the project from our very first meeting, connected us with nearly half our interviewees, and endured our constant badgering for more information and more names with endless good grace. Congratulations on your retirement, Hank: we’re going to miss you and we’re still going to turn to you for help!
1. To recover, document, and make freely available the history of William Penn High School, the African American high school in North Carolina from 1892 through 1968. We hope this history will enrich understanding of High Point's past by incorporating voices that traditionally have been less frequently heard or recognized than others in the community.
2. To use the study of this history as a tool for strengthening relationships among the diverse communities of High Point University, Penn-Griffin School for the Arts (which currently stands on the campus that William Penn used to inhabit), the families of William Penn alumni and staff, the residents of William Penn's Washington Street neighborhood, and all other citizens interested in the past, present, or future of the city of High Point.
3. To enhance our students' research, writing, communication, and technology skills and give them a tangible product of their ongoing efforts on this project.
Several community members and organizations have given us significant support. Phyllis Bridges, documentarian extraordinaire, has been incredibly generous in sharing her knowledge, contacts, and materials. Linda Willard gave us boxes of information that were particularly helpful in understanding the early history of William Penn and its closing and reopening. backing. Kirsten Anderson Simpkins gave us fantastic logistical and emotional backing at Penn-Griffin School for the Arts. Dorothy Kearns and Anne Andrews sat for interviews to help us understand the campaign to save William Penn, and Dorothy Darr helped us to understand the layout of High Point and introduced us and our project to community leaders. The High Point Enterprise and the High Point Historical Society have been kind enough to allow us to reprint images from their collections, and Edith Brady and Marian Inabinett opened the Historical Society’s collections for our investigations.The Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill sent us experienced practitioners to train the students to do oral history work; one of those practitioners, Dr. Joey Fink, ran several of these training sessions and became so enamored with our university that she joined the history department faculty!
At High Point University, Dr. Joe Blosser and Dr. Cara Kozma, Director and Assistant Director of the University Service Learning Program, gave us funding, institutional support, and endless guidance. Dr. Rick Schneid, chair of the Department of History, similarly gave us financial and institutional support, and he and the rest of the history department faculty have been unwavering backers of the project. The library staff, particularly David Bryden, Nita Williams, and Bob Fitzgerald, have offered invaluable resources and expertise. Jennifer Hyde handled many of our administrative needs, and Shannon Barr has stepped in at crucial moments to help things run more smoothly.
Over thirty students have worked on this Project over the course of four semesters in Dr. Paul Ringel’s History Detectives and Collaborative Learning classes. Five of them have showed exceptional commitment and leadership that has largely made this website possible. Jay Burgin deserves special thanks for the countless hours he spent developing this website, Justin Cummings and Madison Homan developed into the go-to interviewers for the Project, Quinn Hagen led the arduous process of organizing our voluminous collection of primary and secondary sources. Dillon O’Gorman contributed several interviews and biographies, and along with Justin, Madison, and Quinn, presented our research at the National Council of Public Historians Annual Meeting in Baltimore in April 2016, where they were among the very few undergraduates presenting alongside graduate students and professional scholars. Thanks to all of the students who contributed their interviewing, research, and writing skills to the Project: Allison Adamczyk, Seaver Boyce, Brittany Breese, Ivory Bridgewater, Grey Carpenter, Tyler Chilton, Kelly Clark, Cassiopeia Eagle, Matt Fischer, Erin Flynn, Mallory Flynn, Cole Glover, Jamie Goldman, Tayler Hudson, Regina Jackson, Andrew Jansen, Ian Logie, Jake McDowell, Luke McNamara, Jon Pilato, Matt Sarnelli, Christopher Sherman, Evan Sneed, Lake Slabach, Kristen Tolo, and Luz Velez. Thanks also to Penn-Griffin School for the Arts history teacher Kate Cruze and students Delancey Allred, Bethany Gradwahl, Allie Lerner, Clarissa McNeil, Savannah Sowers, and Emily Yacuzzo for their contributions to the Project.
Illustration from the William Penn newspaper The Students' Pen, 1945