The High Point Normal and Industrial School’s original mission was to train African-American students for the jobs that were available to them in the Jim Crow South. As a Normal school, it was charged with producing teachers, but most of the evidence from the school’s early years suggest that its focus was on preparing graduates for trades like carpentry, dressmaking, and plastering. That mission gradually expanded to include the liberal arts, and by the time most of the living alumni attended William Penn during the 1950s and 1960s the curriculum included physics, Negro history and foreign languages alongside bricklaying and home economics.
What did not change throughout the school’s history was the tremendous commitment of the teachers to their students. William Penn alumni remember teachers who lived in the same communities and worshiped at the same churches with their pupils. They were highly educated instructors – many had graduate degrees and most had some graduate training at a time when such credentials were not common among high school teachers—who also served as mentors and disciplinarians, pushing their students toward greater academic and career achievements. This page and this website honor them through the memories of their students.