African American Life and Education
"It was the solidifying factor, the institution that really gave the oneness of mentality here in terms of direction of black folk...” -Former Lincoln Heights Principal E.V. Dacons on the school's impact.1
In comparison to the rest of the American South, northwestern North Carolina had a lower African American population; however, this does not mean there was not a vibrant African American population. As far back as the Antebellum era, Wilkes County, North Carolina had a higher percentage of both free and slave African Americans than anywhereelse in the region.2
Even in areas with large African American populations, education was difficult to come by. As Rosenwald alumnus Eugene Robinson has said, "Education was seen as dangerous," and "white Southerners wanted to keep it out of black people's hands," preferring to "keep them working in the fields."3
As a result, schools often belonged to the people they educated as African Americans provided the land, buildings, teachers, and supplies out of their meager funds and possessions. This made education a source of pride for African American communities. Yet most African American communities were without education, and most children did not go to school.4
It's not that the African American communities didn't want education, it's that they lacked the means to provide an education. White communities had publicly funded education while African American communities had none. Julius Rosenwald, who associated education with opportunity, perceived a dilemma, and he had the means to resolve it by founding the Rosenwald Fund and assisting with the building of over 5,000 African American schools throughout the American South. While some students, such as Mildred Rigley Gray, would eventually say, "Julius Rosenwald was the man who gave us public education," Rosenwald did not believe in merely giving people something. Rather, Rosenwald wanted to partner with the people allowing the African American communities to participate, help themselves, and take ownership for the project. It was about their pride, their education, their opportunity, and their community. These schools were theirs not his, and he provided them in such a way that more than a building was built: a community was built.5
Because the Rosenwald Fund only provided part of the funds, communities had to work together. In many cases, the Rosenwald Fund provided one-third of the funds while one-third came from the African American community and the remaining funds came from the city in which the school was being built. The idea was that racial tensions would be transcended while the school itself drew the African American community together. But education was about opportunity. The building of the school drew the community together, yet the school became the source of community once it was built. They became a vital part of the life of the community and the place around which everything revolved. The schools fulfilled the weekday role of churches. It was about far more than education, it was about the life of the people.
Similarly, traditional education was about opportunity and the life that was to be lived by its graduates. The students were provided with an education in traditional subject areas in addition to trade skills. La Verne Gray said, "You were expected to grow up and be a credit to your race." As Corinthia Ridgley Boone said, "You were expected to be somebody . . . our teachers wanted us to be contributors to society." It was within this context that Lincoln Heights School was built in 1924. Wilkes County, North Carolina had as many as 25 African American elementary schools at this time, but neither Wilkes County nor the surrounding counties had an African American high school.6
Many of these schools remain standing throughout the South, among which is the Lincoln Heights School. In many ways, the school whose motto is "Opportunity through Education" stands as an important monument to the Rosenwald Fund and African American education not only in North Wilkesboro but across the south. As the only African American high school in northwestern North Carolina, it exemplified and continues to exemplify the very things the Rosenwald Schools represented. In the words of Wendy Barber, "Lincoln Heights was a vital part of the everyday life of its people" whose graduates continued to be active in their community long after the school's closing.7
As Elizabeth Grinton, a graduate of and teacher at Lincoln Heights said, "I tried to give them something they might hang onto so that someday they might realize that life is worth it . . . then they'll have a child and pass it on. That's how the program goes."8
Julius Rosenwald always intended for his funding program to end with his life. However, with alumni, such as Grinton, and the continued use of buildings, such as Lincoln Heights, as community centers demonstrate the legacy of the Rosenwald Schools and Lincoln Heights continues to live on through present and future generations seeking community, education, opportunity.
 Oral History Interview with E. V. Dacons, March 4, 1991. Interview M-0009. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/M-0009/menu.html.
 Kathryn Staley, "People of Color in Wilkes County, North Carolina: An Examination of Race, Economic Standing, and Religion and Family," (Student paper, Appalachian State University, 1998), W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection, Special Collections, Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C. http://omeka.library.appstate.edu/items/show/14646
 Karen Heller, "The enlightening legacy of the Rosenwald Schools." The Washington Post, August 31, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-enlightening-legacy-of-the-rosenwald-schools/2015/08/30/946b72ca-4cc6-11e5-bfb9-9736d04fc8e4_story.html.
 Frances Hayes,“History of Black People in Wilkes Explored in Program,” Wilkes Journal-Patriot, February 26, 2014, http://www.journalpatriot.com/news/history-of-black-people-in-wilkes-explored-in-program/article_7dfd6880-9f17-11e3-b935-0017a43b2370.html.
 Jim Sparks, “True To Life; Wilkes Women Tries To Instill In Others Desire To Do Their Best: City Edition,” Winston-Salem Journal, December 27, 1997, http://er7vq7mf6v.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:journal&rft.genre=article&rft.atitle=TRUE+TO+LIFE+%3B+WILKES+WOMAN+TRIES+TO+INSTILL+IN+OTHERS+DESIRE+TO+DO+THEIR+BEST&rft.jtitle=Winston+-+Salem+Journal&rft.au=Jim+Sparks+JOURNAL+NORTHWEST+BUREAU&rft.date=1997-12-27&rft.pub=Media+General%2C+Inc&rft.externalDocID=487597121.