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ELM CITY — Gloria Armstrong marveled at the essence of the words on a new sign in front of Frederick Douglass Elementary School.
“Welcome Frederick Douglass Alumni Association,” read the marquee.
On Wednesday, the old Elm City Elementary signs came down and the Frederick Douglass signs went up.
“I can’t describe it. Long time in coming. Long time,” Armstrong said. “I went here 11 years.”
For 30 years, the school had been called Frederick Douglass High School and was attended by African-American residents of Wilson County. In 1970, when Elm City Schools and Wilson County Schools consolidated to comply with national integration requirements, the school was renamed Elm City Elementary School. Students there were transferred to what was then Elm City High, now Elm City Middle School.
Armstrong’s brother, Charlie Armstrong, who also graduated from Elm City High School, watched as the new marquee was installed.
“It’s awesome,” Armstrong said.
The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association led the effort to restore the Douglass name almost since the name was first changed.
The long fight paid off. On Feb. 19, the Wilson County Board of Education unanimously voted to rename Elm City Elementary for the famed abolitionist, author and statesman.
This Friday and Saturday, the association is having its annual reunion.
“This year’s special,” said association president Willie Williams. “We are just pleased that the school board saw fit to give us the name back and we will support the school even more now.”
Williams said the association has long provided support to the elementary school and to Elm City Middle.
“The Frederick Douglass High School Alumni Association has done a tremendous job during my administration during the last eight years of being involved with the community and also raising money for the community,” Williams said. “We were very fortunate when the organization was organized 40 years ago, we had good leadership and the good leadership steered us in the direction of trying to support kids financially to further their education. For the last eight years, we have not given any less than 10 scholarships each year and the year before last, we gave away 15. We are proud of that and also proud of the community projects we have going on. We work with the tutorial program at the elementary school and we also at Christmastime give away baskets, food and other resources that’s needed in the community.”
The organization has received support from chapters in California, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Elm City, Wilson and Sharpsburg.
In addition to scholarship funding, the association has given each school a donation of $500 or more each year.
On Friday, the group will hold its annual business meeting at noon and a basketball game at 7 p.m. in the Elm City Middle School gymnasium.
Saturday events include a parade at 10 a.m. with former administrator Bill Myers serving as grand marshal. The parade starts at Frederick Douglass Elementary School and ending at the Alumni House at 205 Dixon St. in Elm City.
The alumni association will hold its banquet at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Darden Alumni Center, 1600 Lipscomb Road in Wilson, followed by a disco dance at 8 p.m.
“I might shake a leg at the dance Saturday night,” said Gloria Armstrong.
Alice Freeman graduated from Frederick Douglass High School and taught at the elementary school while it was Elm City Elementary.
Freeman led the effort on behalf of the association to change the name back.
“I think most people have been mistakenly thinking that there is nothing left except the gym and the auditorium, but that’s not true,” Freeman said.
“The only thing that is missing is this part,” Freeman said, pointing to a photograph of the original school in a commemorative bulletin sent to 500 alumni association members. “All of the other things are there as they were when I graduated. There has been some reconfiguration of the entrance of the school itself, but basically, those buildings were there.”
Even the original blue auditorium curtains are still hanging.
Annette Faison, new principal at Frederick Douglass Elementary, said she is excited about the name change and for a new year in the school.
“I think it’s great. It’s beautiful,” Faison said. “The signage is really the last thing we did,” Faison said.
“It kind of makes it official, even though it was official.”
Other items, like stationery, bank checks and paperwork, T-shirts and other basic items had to be changed over . That work is all complete.
“We’re getting used to saying Frederick Douglass Elementary, but your instinct is to say Elm City,” Faison said.
“What I love is when someone calls and you say Frederick Douglass Elementary and they pause.”
Faison said the school is changing its school colors to the original blue and gold, but the school mascot remains the Eagles. The colors will be be similar to those of Elm City Middle School and Fike High School where students will feed into.
Stancil Sign and Lighting Service Inc, of Elm City installed the main sign. The 4-by-16-foot blue sign positioned near the entrance to the school was made by 243-Sign of Wilson.