Reid Community celebrates school 50 years after closing
A Reid High School sixth-grade class in 1963. Photo courtesy of millicanpictorialhistorymuseum.com
Fifty years after Gaston’s public schools were integrated, a Belmont neighborhood will pay tribute to a school which long stood a pillar in the black community.
A blue and gold “Reid High School Rams” logo is now painted on the basketball court at Reid Park at the intersection of Sacco and Cedar Streets in Belmont. The park is the former site of Reid High School, where black children in first through 12th grades in Gaston attended until it was closed by the school system in 1966. On Saturday, former students and faculty will honor the school’s legacy with a parade through the Reid Community.
“In our alma mater, it reads in there ‘Live forever in our memories, brighten all our days,’” said Charles Wesley Reid, a former Reid High student who is organizing the parade. “So this is one of our means of allowing the memory of Reid High to linger on for us.”
The parade route will begin 10 a.m. from Davis Park, where the Rams played many of their football games, and ends at Reid Park. The Belmont Police Department will lead the way announcing by loudspeaker “Here come the Reid High Rams.” Other participants include representation from the military, government officials and the South Point High Band.
The parade will be topped off with a pep rally and picnic/festival at the park beginning at 1 p.m. Reid, who grew up in the neighborhood but now lives off South Point Road, says he will read two letters that President Barack Obama wrote to commemorate the event.
“I wrote him and in my letter I shared with him what we felt was the significance of Reid High School,” said Reid.
Reid School is born
Reid’s connection to the school runs deep in his family bloodlines. He, along with his three brothers and sister also attended Reid High. They finished their education at Belmont Senior High after Reid High closed. Reid High was named after their grandfather, Charles Jesse Bynum Reid, who founded the school and was considered a major contributor to the Reid Community.
Charles Jesse Bynum Reid was one of eight children born to emancipated slaves in Lowell. In 1904, he graduated from Lincoln Academy in Kings Mountain. He would attend Knoxville College in Tennessee and in four years, graduated with a degree and a longing to teach.
By 1918, he was a teacher in Mount Holly and became known as “Professor Reid.” He rode his bike from Lowell to work each day.
He would marry another Gaston County school teacher, Maude Herndon. He built a home next to the current Reid Park on Sacco Street where the couple raised their four children together.
That year, Reid helped to open a school in a small building near his house. At first, the school employed six teachers, including Reid, and only served first through sixth grades.
In 1932, the school was named Reid School in its founder’s honor. It would later be referred to as Reid High School.
Though Reid passed away in 1940, he had collected funds that would help build Hood Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church across the street from his home and a new gymnasium and additional classrooms for the school. Charles W. Reid is now an assistant minister at that church, which was built in 1949.
The school soon expanded to include grades kindergarten through 12th grade. It was attended by black students in communities including Mount Holly, Lowell, Cramerton, McAdenville, Neely’s Grove, Belmont and south Gastonia and as far as Union Road close to the South Carolina line, according to the history book “Footprints on the Rough Side of the Mountain,” which was written by former students of the school.
Reid’s grandson says the school became a hallmark of the community, yielding educated students, championship-winning sports teams, and excellent glee clubs and concert bands. He says teachers exhibited a strong will, which permeated through the community.
“We did not have the newest books and such, but yet, their determination to instill within us a solid education was strong,” said Charles W. Reid, who played trumpet in the band.
A new gymnasium was built about six years before the school’s closing, replacing the former gym which was destroyed in a fire. Belmont Abbey College opened its athletics facilities to the school in the meantime. Belmont Abbey also gave the school hand-me-down uniforms to use in previous years. Earlier that year, another tragedy struck when the school’s beloved principal, Henry Sherwood Blue and faculty member Thomas Elwood Grier, were killed in a car wreck.
‘That’s still an upsetting thing’
Though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional in 1954, it would be more than a decade before full integration in Gaston County’s public schools occurred.
Reid High graduated its last class and closed in 1966. Students were reassigned to other area schools, including the former Belmont High.
Reid High’s buildings, many of which were only several years old, were quickly demolished. Reid says at the time there were still concerns about white children coming to a school in the black community. He described the demolition of the school a great loss to the community.
“That’s still an upsetting thing for me and the alumni right now,” he said. “Why did they have to tear down the gym when it could have served a purpose of being a recreational center?”
He says many pieces of memorabilia, such as trophies and other memories, were lost after the school was closed. His mother and brother recovered two desk from the school before it was torn down, but he says tracking down other items has been difficult. Even so, he says the spirit of the school lives on.
“We still have those around who are alumni and they instilled in us, hey, we had this going for us,” he said. “That being shared and imparted to us is motivation for many a person in the Reid Community.”
‘There’s just a lot of excitement’
On July 1, 1995, Reid and others from the Reid Community unveiled a monument entitled “The Message” in memory of the school at Reid Park as part of the city’s centennial celebration. The monument was sculpted by Reid High Class of 1964 alumnus Juan Logan. The late Belmont Mayor Kevin Loftin proclaimed the day “Reid High Day” in the city of Belmont.
On Sept. 7, 2013, the city of Belmont, along with the Reid High Class of 1956 and other contributors erected a marker commemorating Reid High School at Reid Park.
An exhibit featuring yearbooks, photos and other information about Reid High School is currently on display at the Belmont Historical Society, located at 40 Catawba St. in Belmont.
Descendants of the school’s founder have also established the C.J.B Reid Foundation to remember and promote the ideals of Reid High. The foundation helped set the stage for another historic day for the school Saturday.
Reid anticipates alumni coming from as far as Mexico will attend the celebration. He said each year’s graduates are trying to out-do each other with the number of alumni in attendance.
“We’re looking for a big crowd,” said Reid. “There’s just a lot of excitement.”
You can reach Eric Wildstein at 704-869-1828 or Twitter.com/TheGazetteEric.