When Ruth Morgan looks back on her childhood, she remembers a different time, when segregation was the law in the South.
Born in 1956 in rural eastern North Carolina, she attended elementary school in the early 60’s. Morgan went to Chinquapin Elementary School with other African American children, through the seventh grade. After that, schools were integrated and she was sent to another school.
Though many years have passed, Morgan, an accounting technician in the School of Social Work’s business office, never forgot her teachers at Chinquapin and the positive impact they had on her. She even kept in touch with a few over the years, including her fourth grade teacher who recently passed away.
She thought, what if we could somehow reunite these teachers and show our appreciation, while we still can? It weighed on her heart and mind for a year.
Then in March, she decided it was time, after she saw an Oprah Winfrey TV special that brought civil rights leaders and legends from entertainment together with their younger contemporary counterparts, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Selma march and the release of Winfrey’s movie, “Selma.”
“People were re-energized to see the people who paved the way for them,” said Morgan. “I really wanted to do this, for retired and current teachers. I just had a passion to get it done.”
Morgan used her income tax refund to help fund a dinner, which would be held in Chinquapin Elementary School’s cafeteria. It was also the auditorium when Morgan went to school there, and would be the perfect place for a reunion. “I remember standing on that stage!” she smiled, thinking back to a school program where she can still recite her lines.
So she announced the event through local churches, and worked with a graphic designer friend to create a promotional bookmark to hand out. Many retired and current teachers and their families from Duplin County and nearby schools were invited.
She enlisted her family and friends to help, and incorporated a “use what you have” mindset. What they didn’t have, she rented — such as a PA system, and tables and chairs. Her friend helped buy some small door prizes to give away. Morgan’s sister Evett Pickett and other family members did the catering, a Thanksgiving-like feast: Barbecue turkey and ribs, baked turkey breast, gravy, stuffing, rice, string beans, potato salad, chicken and cake. A colleague donated trays of cookies. Morgan hand-crafted the decorations herself.
On the evening of June 27, 2015, about 20 retired teachers, seven current teachers, their families, and a number of alumni, attended the dinner. The program included a meet and greet time, brief readings, a dance performance, and several current and retired teachers and alumni stood to give heartfelt statements and share memories.
By all accounts, a wonderful time was had. “I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you did for us black educators,” wrote retired teacher Janice Pigford in a card to Morgan. “I do not know of anything that has ever happened for us.”
Another, Willie Jones, wrote, “Thank you wholeheartedly…It was simply the most exquisite, captivating, and entertaining I’ve ever witnessed — one I will forever remember and feel eternally blessed to be so honored. May God forever bless you and your lovely family for such a wonderful, unselfish tribute to retired teachers.”