Monday, April 9, 2018

Bricks, North Carolina -- Whipping Posts to Blackboards

Franklinton Center at Bricks 

During the boyhood of one still living, students at Bricks were told how this farm 
was once a place where 'unruly' slaves were sent to be subdued and 'broken in.' 
A spot was pointed out to us where the 'whipping post' stood – just 
in front of what is now the Guest House. It was impressed upon us 
that this was still a place where people were sent to be 'broken,' 
not as slave for a slave state, but as free men and women for a
 place of service in a free and democratic society.”
    Ross W. Sanderson, President
Board of Trustees,
Franklinton Center, Inc. at Bricks

A long time ago – if my memory serves me right it was the summer of 1971 – while I was working as director of West End Ministries Tutoring Program and serving as youth director for Bigelow Methodist Church, I accompanied a group comprised of Bigelow and United Church of Christ youth on a mission trip to a place called “Brick, North Carolina.” We were serving to help make improvements to what was once known as Franklinton Christian College. We worked there helping restore the campus of an old black institution located in Edgecombe County between Enfield and Whitakers.

I will never forget my stay at Brick. And, I am sure neither will any member of our youth group. We were all white and our community there that summer was all black. It was a joy of fellowship, work, and making new acquaintances. To say it was a successful cultural experience would be an understatement.

We even spent an afternoon in the hot Carolina sun chopping cotton – although I think it was more for our edification than for the sake of the crop. Nevertheless, all agreed it was brutal work. I did miss the opportunity to taste a pigeon, of which the local caretaker bragged was “fine fair.” And, for some reason I remember the fear that gripped the little community when one of our crews turned up a harmless snake while trimming brush. The locals ran for cover until we were convinced to dispatch the creature.

We also experienced firsthand the remnants of segregation in the South. I remember the local doctor's office still had a separate waiting room for black patients. Conversation included the continued fear of the KKK in the area. And, on one shopping trip to nearby Rocky Mount, I remember walking beside a black girl from campus and receiving an overwhelmingly large number of pointed stares from the white population. Being Yankees in a foreign land, we found new perspectives around every corner. But, rest assured, our Bricks hosts were most cordial and thankful for our visit. We loved each other in earnest. Many tears were shed when we headed back to Ohio.

Students at Bricks

Let me give you some history of the institution that hosted our work camp …

This was written of the area …

The fertile farmland of Franklinton Center at Bricks contains both tragedy and hope. The acres where tobacco and cotton once were harvested were part of a plantation known as the place to break unruly slaves. Through the ashes of that pre-Civil War horror, hope in the form of educational opportunity and leadership development was cultivated.”

Franklinton Center was once a plantation particularly known for breaking unruly slaves. The property was purchased after the Civil War by General L. G. Estes. Estes, while fighting for the Union Army, had been particularly impressed with the area. It is written that Estes was “better at being an Army General than a farmer” because he was unable to make the farm productive and lost it to Mrs. Julia Elma Brick of New York, who had lent him the money for the purchase. Thus, the “Bricks connection was established.

Mrs. Brick then approached Howard University to take the land to build a school to educate poor black children she believed would otherwise not have the opportunity for learning life skills. Howard showed little interest in establishing such a school. Instead, it ended up being the American Missionary Association (AMA), a philanthropic and former abolitionist organization begun by Congregationalists and known for setting up battlefield schools during the Civil War for the black soldiers.

The AMA's purpose was to provide for the education and the "Americanization" of all minorities of whatever race or nationality. Through Julia's gift of land and endowment, the organization took on the task of building a boarding school on the property. Financed primarily by Mrs. Brick, the Bricks School (the Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial and Normal School, eventually known as Bricks Junior College) opened in 1895 with one student.

The school soon became a success – by the end of the first year, the institution enrolled 54 students of whom 13 were boarders. Both boys and girls were admitted up to the fourth grade, although most of them were first and second graders. The 50-acre campus was situated on a tract of 1,129 acres. Eventually, it comprised three large dormitories in addition to a chapel, recitation hall, administration building, and shop where boys were taught blacksmithing, woodwork, mechanical drawing, the use of small machinery, and cabinetmaking.

Over the years enrollment at Brick increased, reaching as high as 460 students, 260 of whom were boarders. The school produced a variety of farm products and developed an extensive mail-order business in honey. Many black teachers—especially in the field of home economics—also served in nearby counties; others went on to graduate work in other institutions and became teachers, dentists, and physician.

According to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the Brick School was so successful it was considered to have “played a key role in the history of education in the United States.” In order to meet the needs of the growing educated Black community, the Brick School became a junior college in 1925. Changes in the Southern political climate, educational focus and the Depression led to the school closing in 1933. For many years, parcels of the land were then leased to sharecroppers.

Thomas Inborden
Thomas Sewell Inborden – Bricks Educator

Thomas Sewell Inborden, renowned black educator at Brick, was born near Upperville, about sixteen miles from Winchester, Va., the son of freeborn parents. His maternal grandmother was descended from a distinguished white family from the "upper neck" of Virginia.

In 1882, after attending a local public school, Inborden left home, on foot, to go to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked as a bellboy and waiter in the Forest City Hotel for sixteen months. He saved sufficient funds to enter preparatory school at Oberlin College, where he remained for four years.

In 1887 he went to Fisk University and four years later was graduated with the B.A. degree. He then joined the American Missionary Association. Affiliated with the association for over half a century, he was first assigned as pastor of a church in Beaufort, North Carolina, and remained there for three months. In the fall of 1891 he went to Helena, Ark., to organize a high school, and two years later he was sent to Albany, Ga., to establish the Albany Normal School.

Transferred to Bricks, Inborden was the organizer and first principal of the Joseph Keasbey Brick Agricultural, Industrial and Normal School, where he began work on August 1, 1895.

During this period, attendance at the annual farm meetings for African-Americans grew from 5 to approximately 2,000. Inborden inspired many blacks to seek the ownership of land, and he was instrumental in the founding of the Tri-County Federal Farm Loan Association, which was run by blacks.

Inborden also organized the first YMCA Conference for blacks in the South. He served as president of the North Carolina Colored Teachers Association for two years, of the North Carolina Fair Association for two years, and of the North Carolina Negro Farmers Congress for eight years. In addition, he was chairman of the Jury of Awards for the Negro Building at the Jamestown Exposition in 1907, a member of the Negro Sociological Congress, and president of the Eagle Life Insurance Company of Raleigh. He held several honorary appointments by North Carolina governors.

Thomas married Sarah Jane Evans, the daughter of freeborn blacks who had migrated to Ohio from North Carolina about 1854. She was a graduate of Oberlin College and a teacher for thirty-six years. Before her death on May 12, 1928, the Inbordens had seven children, three of whom grew to adulthood. Thomas Inborden died March 10, 1951, in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. 

Franklinton Students

The Bricks and Franklinton Union

Then, in a union of two separate entities – Brick School and Franklinton Christian College – Franklinton Center at Bricks was transformed into one of the first accredited schools for African American in the South. The schools merged in 1954. Franklinton Christian College was started by the James O'Kelly Christian Church in 1871 to train black leaders for local churches. Many of the AMA schools still exist, including United Church of Christ-related historically black colleges. 

Present Day

Today, the property is known as the Franklinton Center at Bricks is a conference, retreat, and educational facility focusing on justice advocacy, young people, and leadership development. As a ministry of the United Church of Christ, it is staffed and managed by Justice and Witness Ministries, specializing in issues of racial and social justice.

Site of the Whipping Post

Two of the original buildings are still on the acreage and a Magnolia tree stands as a grim reminder where the whipping post is believed to have once been. Now, the campus also has modern, dormitory style rooms, large conference rooms, a swimming pool, and a cafeteria style dining hall.

The center offers opportunities for conferences and workshops on church and community leadership education, rural, racial and social justice, spiritual growth and development, as well and community and family activities. The Center hosts and trains visiting groups and also serves the local community. The center weaves rural justice, hunger issues, environmental racism, and workers’ rights into its programmatic focus.

Ms. Vivian Lucas, director of the Franklinton Center at Bricks shared the importance of the center being an actively involved partner with the surrounding communities. Although times have changed since the days of the Brick School, the area still has one of the highest poverty and illiteracy rates in the country.

As part of the UCC ministry the center offers youth and adult literacy classes; nutritional, sustainable agricultural; environmental awareness; diversity appreciation programs and more, now or in the near future. “God is still speaking…”

The Bricks Museum at Memorial Hall offers a collection of historical documents that include photographs, paintings, artifacts, journals, and materials from the many lives of the site, including an early 20th-century post office and various schools.

I often think about Brick, the work, the people there. I am so thankful for the experience. The taste of the South at the time helped solidify my beliefs and understandings. You see, my brother lived in Gulfport, Mississippi in the 1960s, and on trips to his home I also experienced the full-blown segregation of the time. I saw the segregated restrooms and other public facilities. I visited the hateful separation and felt powerless to interfere. I was young, perhaps too young to fully understand. But, while staying in Brick at the age of 20, I absorbed an experience that rang clear as a church-house bell – I realized we are all God's precious creatures, no matter what color or persuasion. Black and white, we can live together in love and harmony just like we did in Brick. I've never forgotten that.


“Franklinton Center at Bricks.” A Ministry of the United Church of Christ.

Anthoy Moujaes. “UCC volunteers unearth history at Franklinton Center at Bricks.” January 28, 2013.

Stella Perez. “Planting Seeds…from heritage to future visions for the Franklinton Center at Bricks.” August 25, 2012.

William S. Powell, Ed. “Inborden, Thomas Sewell.” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes. 1979-1996.

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