“The history of Sadie Saulter School has not ended; rather, a new chapter is being opened in its evolving story as it continues to serve the students in Pitt County Schools and the community where it has long been such an important part.”
–The Office of Public Information, Pitt County Schools, 2011
Although de jure segregation no longer exists, de facto segregation still remains an issue amongst public schools; especially at Sadie Saulter Elementary. Most fail to realize that segregation is still an issue amongst schools, neighborhoods, and communities. Segregation has not only been swept under the rug for a long time, but remains a taboo issue that most would rather not talk about. Sadie Saulter’s sudden closing; along with the closing of several other integrated schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods, raises the questions, Are schools really integrated?
“De Jure vs. De Facto”
De jure segregation refers to the separation of races based on judicial law. This type of segregation has not existed since the 1960’s. De Jure segregation, as it proves, is a violation of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, which guarantee everyone, equal protection under the law. Three major turn of events occurred in North Carolina that changed the legal basis of de jure segregation for Black Americans; the Freedmen’s Bureau, the Civil Rights Movement, and Brown vs. The Board of Education. Policies such as these made certain Black Americans were not only freed from slavery, but were treated equally, and given the right to an equal education (Holcombe, 1985, pg.21). However, when De Jure integration occurred, many parents refused to send their Caucasian children to Black schools (Carter, 2011). As a result, Black schools such as Sadie Saulter Elementary have very little integration. For example, Sadie Saulter’s current demographics show that out of the 216 students in attendance during the 2010-2011 school year, 90.3% were Black American and less than 10% were of other races.
On the other hand, the term De facto segregation derives from the Latin phrase “as a matter of fact”, and still prevails in schools today. De facto segregation often exists based on housing patterns or demographic distributions (Holcomb, 1985, pg.10). Communities in Greenville and Pitt County have racially separated neighborhoods. The reason behind this separation can be attributed to racism, classism, elitism, limited opportunity, economic disadvantage, political disadvantage, social disadvantage, and/or the effects of historic discrimination. Therefore, schools inevitably, have become racially divided, as children typically attend schools in relative proximity to their neighborhoods. Although segregation is no longer a written law amongst public schools, it is a fact, that Black American students and White American students are undeniably separated. Unfortunately, it seems that while total desegregation is possible, total integration may not be attainable.
The North Carolina Public schools system dates back all the way from 1776 when Section XLI of the Constitution provided for a public school system, but there was no allocation of funds for education. Often, funds for education where provided by elite members of the community and by religious services (Holcombe, 1985, pg.17). For over two centuries education was deemed the right of the rich, White, and privileged. In 1835 North Carolina passed a legislation that provided funds to establish 1,250 school districts; the first common school opened in 1840, and in 1846 there was a school in every county of the state, which was available to every white citizen (Holcombe, 1985, pg.19). Funding for Black schools was an issue because the government was reluctant to tax in order to support schools for both races. For the most part, communities were responsible for funding the education of Black American students. The Peabody Education Fund, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Slater Fund, the General Education Board, and the Jeanes Fund made direct contributions to Black schools.
The land Sadie Saulter was built on
Jean carter went to Sadie Saulter in 1948 when it was still Fleming Street School, she attended four years until she reached fourth grade. Ms. Carter recalls that it was strictly black and the only school in Greenville at the time for Black children aside from a small school in Meadow Brook. Although she received a good education at the time, it was evident that it wasn’t as good as the White schools. She recalls using used textbooks handed down from other schools, and not having a library;
“Fleming Street School did not have a library. Ms. Saulter was principal at the time and had a book shelf in her office and I can recall her bringing out the books and us picking out what books we wanted.”
Although many radical changes had taken place, it seemed as though Black schools were almost always inferior to the schools for whites.
The Civil Rights Act, along with The Brown vs. The Board of Education decision, brought about desegregation compliance and integration to North Carolina (Holcombe, 1985, pg.1). “Integration is the removal of barriers imposing segregation upon individuals or groups of various racial backgrounds so that they may function as a unit in a more or less stable or harmonious pattern (Holcombe, 1985, pg.11).” North Carolina was reluctant to follow through with integration policies, as integration threatened traditional norms customs and mores. However, as the need for money and federal financial support grew, the winds of change blew through the South, as it destroyed the legal basis of segregation, swept away the last vestiges of de jure racial segregation, and forever changed a way of life for North Carolina public schools (Holcomb, 1985, pg. 28).
“Sadie Saulter: The Woman”
Picture of Sadie Saulter
Sadie Saulter School was named the Fleming Street School until it was renamed after Ms. Saulter on September 17, 1967. Sadie Irene Saulter was a positive figure in the community who returned to Greenville in 1924 to begin her career as a third grade teacher. In 1962 she became principal of the Fleming Street School and held that position for twenty years. She was known as a leader in education to her students and administrative peers who looked up to her. Many students, one in particular, remembers Ms. Saulter making a scrapbook of world travels. Although most students had never even been out of Pitt County before, they were able to set their sights high and imagine traveling and visiting different places around the world (Hill, 2010). What stood out about Sadie Saulter was that she was interested in the children and she would teach them songs that are prominent in Black American culture such as Lift Every Voice and Sing, and she educated students on Black history (Jean Carter, 2011).
“Sadie Saulter: The School”
Sadie Saulter Elementary School houses the memories of many Black Americans in the Greenville community. Ms. Carter describes her experience at Sadie Saulter as, “a turning point in my life.” Sadie Saulter provided a sense of unity, growth, and community strength in the lives of the many Black Americans. Sadie Saulter is important to Ms. Carter because her children started school at Sadie Saulter in 1971, and her grandchildren are currently in attendance now in 2011. Sadie Saulter is important to Ms. Carter as she recalls the closeness and togetherness atmosphere that existed at the school, “Teachers at Sadie Saulter were extended family members, and they took a special interest in us”.
“Sadie Saulter Closing”
Unfortunately, In February 2010, Sadie Saulter, a historically Black Elementary School, began plans for closing the school and turning it into a pre-K center with special programs. The facilities committee approved a plan that would close the school in 2011 and expand the parking lot (Humphries, 2010). The reason behind the schools closing is that, “It is no longer cost-effective to maintain the facility as a school.”(The Daily Reflector, 2010). Last year the Board of Education approved new maps for 11 elementary schools and three middle schools to accommodate population growth. Sadie Saulter will be converted from a K-5 elementary school to a pre-K and special program center while Third Street school right down the street will be closing and converted into something else too. Two special elementary programs at Sadie Saulter, Suzuki violin and Spanish, will be cut or moved. Spanish will become a middle school program and moved to C.M. Eppes and E.B. Aycock middle schools. Resolving the programs at Sadie will be the hardest part (Daily Reflector, Feb 4, 2011)
Edward Carter seved on the city school board for eight in a half years before he becomming the Mayor of Greenville, and spending fourteen years in elected office. According to Mr. Carter, the school board realized there would be a population growth back in the 1970’s. They had projected that Black students would exceed the number of Whites in the school system, and schools such as Sadie Saulter would have to endure major physical changes. Sadie Saulter Elementary has to be so many acres of land for each student population based on its size. Instead of acting upon these projections and making such provisions, the school board has not been efficient in making preparations for the black population expanding. The result is Sadie Saulter’s closing.
Sadie Saulter, Third Street Elementary and South Greenville Elementary are the only schools in the Black community, which were built before integration and two of the three are closing. Mr. Carter expresses his concerns;
“The brut of integration has been put on the backs of Black children. Children living in lower income housing projects, such as Moywood, have been split four ways where the children each will be bussed to four different schools…sending kids to different schools in order to get the numbers to come out right. Black members of the board are not advocating keeping buildings such a Sadie Saulter. It makes no sense to take Sadie Saulter and put the same students in a school in another neighborhood and we’re going to lose a functioning full service school in the black community.”
Next year, the students that would have attended Sadie Saulter are expected to be bussed to Lake Forest Elementary, Eastern Greenville Elementary and South Greenville Elementary. The new school, Lake Forest is further from the black community and the children have to be bussed to the school.
Currently, the demographics of Sadie Salter Elementary show that over 90% of the students attending are Black, less than 10% of students are White. South Greenville Elementary, on the other hand, is 66% Black American and 25% White. Eastern Greenville, the second of the three schools replacing Sadie Saulter is 63% Black American and 24% White. Lastly, although Lake Forest is a brand new school, it is projected to be predominantly Black as well (Pitt County Schools Ethnic Breakdown, 2011). Current demographics show that the new school plans might not improve the issue of integration at all. Ms. Carter explains;
“Sadie Saulter is mostly black because the whites refused to send their children there. Parents refused to send their children there because of the neighborhood it was in. The programs they have now are so good and they have enrichment programs, good teacher involvement and is community oriented. This school is culturally important to a lot of people. The fact that it is closing, it is like a landmark closing and heritage being put to side. Time moves on and things change…but I think that we are losing a lot. Because people are refusing to send their children there they had to do something with that school. They are closing up Sadie Saulter and turning it into a center. They are starting another one in Lake Forest, but it might be the same thing because it is still on the fringes of black neighbor hoods.”
Historically integration meant the closing of Black schools and “bussing” black students to integrated schools or what were once all white schools, years later, not much has changed. Transportation remains an issue, especially for Sadie Saulter because elementary school students, who would ordinarily attend the local “neighborhood school” down the street, are now being forced to assimilate and be transported to another district to receive their education. However, decision makers would rather spend money transporting these students to another facility, than invest money into the facility that currently exists.
The closing of Sadie Saulter and other Black schools are not examples of blatant racism, but latent racism, which continues to be a problem in North Carolina. It is a micro aggression of our society to close a historically Black school like Sadie Saulter, and bus students to another area. It is forcing students to disregard their own heritage and culture, and assimilate to a completely different culture all together. This transition is lacking in cultural sensitivity, because it is as if saying one neighborhoods culture and history is less important than the next. Instead of just closing Black schools due to “budget restraints” there needs to be a more heterogeneous approach to integrating schools and dealing with the issues. It seems as though policy makers have just taken the easy way out, and simply not taken into account how acculturation affects children’s perception and thought process. What impact will this have on their self-esteem? What impact will this have on their education? How will they be received? What support systems are in place to help students with such changes?
In conclusion, it is important to preserve our history not just as Black Americans, but as Americans. The progress we as Americans have made with education does not need to go unrealized or unappreciated. However, it needs to serve as a stepping stool for the distance we have yet to cover. It is important for us to be accepting of one another, to integrate our bodies, opinions, cultures, traditions and minds in a way that is conducive towards the betterment of society. It is important that we not just assimilate one tradition or culture because it is viewed as superior. We can all learn from one another, and as students and future leaders of this country, it is important that we not only shed light upon this learning process, but to also share our findings with whomever will listen. Lastly, there is a dire need for individuals to advocate for the rights of those who have no voice.
Holcombe, RE. (1985). A desegregation study of public schools in North Carolina. Johnston City, TN: University Microfilms International.
The office of Public Information, Pitt County Schools. (2011, January 04). The continuing evolution of Sadie Saulter school…a tribute. retrieved from http://www.pitt.k12.nc.us/198710423145257170/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=293681&C=55809
Whitman, Mike. Pitt Community Schools Ethnic Breakdown Spreadsheet. 2010
Schools release plan for transition. (2011, February 4). Daily Reflector,
Little Willie Center eyes school facility. (2011, February 22). Daily Reflector,
Batchelor, T.S. (2003, March 4). Honoring sadie saulter. The Daily Reflector, p. B1.
Sadie Saulter expansion on agendas for county school board, city council. (2004, December 6). The Daily Reflector, p. B1.
White, S. (1994, October 16). Space needs keep growing at Saulter. The Daily Reflector, p. A-1.
Hill, S.A. (Ed.). (2010). Behind the names. Fountain, NC: RA Fountain Publisher.