Recently, I attended an event acknowledging graduates from the A.M. Rollins colored school located in Mount Holly, North Carolina. The name Mount Holly was used in recognition of a reputable spinning mill in Mount Holly, New Jersey. Incorporated in 1879, Mount Holly was and is still known for its textile production. Currently American & Efird founded in Mount Holly, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industrial sewing thread, embroidery thread and technical textiles.
The town is small and quaint, appearing to have churches on every corner which is quintessential of places in the bible belt. Like many small towns, most of the residence know each other very well and families are intertwined one way or another, whether it’s being of kin or ancestral dealings. During my visit, I was chaperoned by a former student who attended the A.M. Rollins school. He was very well versed not only about Mount Holly history, but African-American history in general. We drove around the town and visited areas specific to the African-American community, including the former home site of the locally famed Hunter Ransom and A.M Rollins school. Mr. Hunter Ransom born in 1825, was a former slave who owned a generous amount of land which housed the A.M Rollins school, churches, and other business establishments. Mr. Hunter was known as a well-known business man in the community and it has been said he frequented downtown, not receiving overt confrontation as other African-Americans by his white counterparts during the time period. Mr. Ransom passed in 1918.
While riding through the predominantly African-American neighborhoods, the A.M. Rollins graduate pointed out the deplorable living conditions many of the homes were in. He compared the homes to those in the television show In The Heat of The Night. The homes looked like shotgun houses and clearly did not meet housing codes. The graduate assured me, “I’m going to keep fighting for the city to get these homes right, no one should be living like this.” I commended and appreciated his passion of making sure residence in the community were not overlooked. While visiting the African-American cemetery, it was clear at some point the cemetery was once shared by African-Americans and whites, but was purposely divided by a road now separating the two. The African-American cemetery is the resting place of former slaves and individuals who fought in the Civil War, WWI, and their descendants. The cemetery is taken care of by members in the African-American community and was previously neglected by the city. The cemetery, as well as other current businesses and public schools are on the former land of Ransom Hunter.
In recent years, the city of Mount Holly has been known for the home of now deceased Ku Klux Klan leader Virgil Lee Griffin. In 1979, Griffin was involved in a counter protest in Greensboro, NC which included the Klan, Nazis, and Communist Workers Party, which was organizing textile workers in North Carolina, and staged a “Death to the Klan” rally. By the end of the confrontation, five “leftists” were killed and ten were injured. In 1984, Griffin was acquitted of charges in the North Carolina state court. Afterwards, Griffin did not go quietly and was quoted saying “No matter what the communists say, the K.K.K. is here to stay.” As you see Mount Holly is like a big pot of Louisiana gumbo with many ingredients that make up its unique flavor.
During the event, it was very pleasing to hear some of the A.M. Rollins graduates discussing the strong emphasis on education within the community. Rollins was a safe haven for many of the African-American students and the African-American residence of the community made sure the teachers who worked at the school were taken care of. Some of the teachers came from Charlotte, NC and other surrounding cities and towns to teach at Rollins. African-American families allowed teachers to stay at their homes, providing room and board. It was mentioned numerous times “all we had was each other.” Other non-savory experiences not included during the event was the frequent Klan activity at a place called “The Hill”. I sensed a hesitancy from many of the African-Americans in the crowd to speak. Those in attendance were individuals from ages 4 to their early 90’s. This silence can be somewhat typical in the African American community, especially when individuals who are non-African-American are in attendance. It reminds me of how the formerly enslaved kept confidential information to themselves and talked in code about what was going on. We have become the masters of hoarding information, sometimes to our detriment.
In a very disappointing moment, an individual expressed African-American student’s reluctance to leave Rollins and integrate due to the violence towards people of color during the mid 1960’s. A Caucasian in the crowd who was a resident during the time period attempted to control the historical narrative of the Rollins student by saying “don’t you think some of that was just being kids being kids at that age and they just didn’t mature yet.” After the failed attempt in trying to pursued the former graduates to believe “kids were just being kids”, one of the Rollins graduates firmly stated “no that was just what they learned from home.” And there you have it. Mic dropped, and the show was essentially over. No one was in the mood for anymore of the follies, which led me to naming this blog Good Golly Mount Holly!