Marker honors Marian Anderson School
By Chris Day
Monday, April 29, 2019
CAMDEN — Cleophus Aydlett pointed to the small stage behind him and said the last time he was on it was in 1964. That was when he was a graduating senior accepting his diploma from Marian Anderson High School.
Aydlett was one of about 40 Marian Anderson graduates attending a dedication ceremony for a new historical marker that honors the site of the former all black school. The ceremony was held in the auditorium at Camden County Middle School, which until 1969 was the site of Marian Anderson.
Aydlett also recalled being a student at Marion Anderson on Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Aydlett said the school’s principal, W.C. Witherspoon, called all the students to the auditorium and told them the news of Kennedy’s death.
After a brief ceremony in the auditorium the guests moved outside to watch the unveiling of the marker, which is posted on Scotland Road. If driving east, the marker is posted on the school side of the road about 100 yards before the main entrance.
In bold letters against a light gray field, the marker reads: “Former site of Sawyer's Creek/Marian Anderson High School (before integration) 1952-1969, Donated by the Class of 1967.”
Beatrice Ferebee, class of 1960, provided a brief history of Marian Anderson High School, which was originally named Sawyer’s Creek. In 1956, Principal Witherspoon changed the school’s name to honor Marian Anderson, a famous black opera singer and contralto from Philadelphia.
The year 1969 was the school’s final year, as students there integrated to the existing Camden County High School in 1970. That same year the former Anderson school became Camden County Middle School.
Ferebee said that Marian Anderson was a small school where everybody knew each other. The school didn’t have a football team but did have great basketball teams, boys and girls, she said. The teachers took great interests in their students, and because Witherspoon was strict there were few significant discipline problems, she said.
Waverly Knight, class of 1960, recited the purpose of Saturday’s gathering in the form of a poem.
In 1966, Knight returned to Camden where she worked as a teacher’s assistant at Marian Anderson. She eventually became a teacher and worked at each of Camden’s public schools before her retirement, she told the audience.
“So, I’ve walked these halls about 50 years,” she said.
LeVar Mizelle, the principal at Camden Middle, also spoke. He told the audience that he wanted to use Witherspoon’s motto, “Good, better, best,” as a way for the school to incorporate Witherspoon’s influence.
Ferebee also discussed the year-long process to get the marker posted outside the school. A group of Marian Anderson graduates pitched the idea to the Camden Board of Education and later received permission from the N.C. Department of Transportation to post the marker on the shoulder of Scotland Road.
“So, it was a long process. It has been quite a journey,” Ferebee said of the group’s effort. “That’s what we were taught in school. Never give up!”