120 Years Later
WSSU kicking off yearlong slate of anniversary events tomorrow
Winston-Salem State University will embark tomorrow on a yearlong celebration of its 120th anniversary.
From its origins in a one-room schoolhouse, where founder Dr. Simon Green Atkins taught 25 students at what was then known as Slater Industrial Academy, the institution has blossomed into a sprawling 117 acre-campus with 6,400 students and faculty members.
Over the years, Winston-Salem State has been many things to many people. For city native Peyton Hairston Sr., it was a place to grow and find his purpose. Hairston was one of 11 children, four of whom attended WSSU, then known as Winston-Salem Teachers College or simply “TC.” Hairston said his experiences on campus in the 1950s helped to shape and inform much of the nearly six decades that has followed. He remembers his class as a small, close knit group determined to succeed in a hostile world.
“We were so small that everybody knew everybody and we developed friendships that have lasted through the years,” he remarked. “Some of my best friends are people I met at Winston-Salem State.”
It was there that Hairston met his wife of 47 years, the late Jannie Shaw, a doe-eyed underclassman.
“She was gorgeous and had the biggest, prettiest eyes. I remember telling my mom I met a little girl that has eyes so big I almost call them saucers,” he recalled. “…The library was where we did most of our courting. You’d go to the library at night, get your studying done so you could hold hands under the table, and then I’d get to walk her back to her dorm.”
Hairston described his instructors as visionary leaders who pushed students and prepared them for a post Brown v. Board of Education, world where separate but equal would no longer be the norm.
“It amazes me how the faculty and staff there prepared us for things that they could never know would ever happen,” declared Hairston, whose 30 year career in the local school system included over two decades in school administration. “…(When I started college), the idea was that I would get a job teaching in some black school like all the others had done, but things changed in the ’60’s. We walked through doors where we were not wanted, not welcome and everywhere we went, we raised the level of proficiency, we made it a better place.”
Hairston, who also served the City of Winston-Salem for nine years as one of the first black firefighters in the South, was recently inducted into the Big House Gaines Hall of Fame for Meritorious Service. The two-term National Alumni Association president said the school has earned his passion and dedication.
“It was there when we needed it,” he declared. “They wouldn’t even let me in the back door at Duke … or any of the other prestigious universities, but Winston-Salem State was there, and they were graduating folks who were having tremendous impact on the lives of black folks. Everywhere they went, they were in high demand. That was a tremendous incentive.”
Charlotte native Marilyn Roseboro has many fond memories of her time at WSSU, both as an undergrad and later as a longtime employee. Roseboro came to WSSU in 1969, the same year the school became a university, on the prestigious RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company Scholarship, which covered her tuition and afforded her the opportunity to spend a semester abroad in Great Britain.
Roseboro was a member of the school’s marching band, then known as “The Biggest Sound in the CIAA,” and still vividly remembers the time in Baltimore, Md. that the band performed before thousands at a Baltimore Colts game a few days after Thanksgiving.
“(The band) was this close group – we were like a family anyway,” she related. “And we had new uniforms that year. We were looking sharp if I do say so myself!”
Students who lived on campus were held to strict rules and required to inform their dorm matrons of where they were going and when they planned to return whenever they left campus, Roseboro said, and Sunday dinners on campus were a can’t miss event. The Hauser Building, which was constructed during her tenure as a student, was home to a student center, complete with a beauty parlor, a barber shop and a bank. Her graduating class, the Class of 1973, donated the adjacent concrete fountain that still stands to this day.
“It was just the place to be – everything happened over there,” she recalled with a smile.
After six years working in the media and public relations field, Roseboro returned to campus as a member of the staff. Over more than three decades, she held a varoety of positions, from director of public relations to associate professor of mass communications.
As an employee, Roseboro says her love for her alma mater grew. She remembers the anticipation she felt each year as she watched the buses chartered by Alumni Associations from across nation pull up in front of the old Alumni House, loaded down with former Rams ready to celebrate Homecoming.
“That’s when you knew, ‘It’s Homecoming, y’all!’” declared the 61 year-old. “…They talked about ‘Ram pride,’ we were proud of this institution. There was just no school like Winston-Salem State.”
Looking back, Roseboro said the university has come a long way, increasing the breadth and diversity of its courses of study, its infrastructure, and its students.
“It’s a tremendous tribute to (founder) Dr. Simon Green Atkins when you think about the faith that he had to have to start this institution, the level of commitment he had to have to build this institution at a time when there were so many challenges,” she said.
Anniversary events will begin tomorrow (Sept. 28) at 11 a.m. near the school’s clocktower, said Dr. Shirley Manigault, special assistant to the chancellor and co-chair of the 120th Anniversary Planning Committee. The program, which is free and open to the public, will include the reading of a proclamation from Mayor Allen Joines, the unveiling of a custom anniversary postage stamp and commemorative souvenirs and musical performances by student groups. Organizers are expecting around 1,000 attendees.
Over the next year, a series of events will be held to celebrate the past, present and future of the institution.
“I think it’s going to be intellectually stimulating, somewhat provocative, and I think people will enjoy themselves,” Manigault said of the activities planned over the next year. “They are fun events and intellectual events and cultural events. There’s something, I think, for everyone to take away from the university in this year of celebration.”
For more information about Friday’s program, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.wssu.edu/about/events/2012/annivesarycelebration.aspx” www.wssu.edu/about/events/2012/annivesarycelebration.aspx. Information about other anniversary events throughout the year will be available at wssu.edu/anniversary.