The Forsyth County Board of Education voted unanimously to name its next elementary school after a former school for Black students in early-20th century Forsyth County.
During its regular meeting Tuesday, Sept. 15, the five-member board voted to name Elementary School No. 23, which is scheduled to open in 2022, New Hope Elementary School.
“After what we experienced in 2020,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, director of communications with Forsyth County Schools, “we can think of no better name.”
When Forsyth County’s school district first formed after the Civil War, 114 of its 1,456 students were Black, according to research by the Historical Society of Cumming/Forsyth County. By the early 1900s, Forsyth County had a stable Black community. The 1910 U.S. Census counted approximately 1,000 Black residents out of around 11,000 overall, and 16 schools served Black students, usually on land donated by African-American landowners.
New Hope was the name of one of the first and largest schools for African-American and Black students in Forsyth County. Over 40 students attended the school on land donated by Thomas Roper, one of the largest Black landowners in Forsyth around 1910.
Two years later, in 1912, nearly all of Forsyth County’s Black residents were violently driven out by their white neighbors following the public lynching of Robert Edwards, an African-American man who the area’s white residents believed raped and killed Mae Crow, an 18-year-old white woman. Hardly any Black residents lived in Forsyth for the next 75 years. Today, 4.4% of the county’s population is African-American.
The committee formed to name Elementary School No. 23 had their usual marching orders: pick something that honors a distinguished local figure or references the area’s geography or history. An online survey produced several options.
But in a year in which the country has reckoned with racism and incidents of police brutality against black Americans, the committee decided on New Hope to recognize Forsyth County’s early Black residents and their schools and “make a commitment to the awareness, the knowledge, the skills and the actions for a better future for all,” Caracciolo said.
New Hope, Cleveland said during the meeting, “just seemed to ring true.”
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Earlier in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve Bowen & Watson, Inc., a Tocca-based construction company, to build the $28 million school on the west side of Castleberry Road just north of Bethelview Road.
When completed, New Hope is expected to relieve “current and future” overcrowding at Whitlow, Vickery Creek, Shiloh Point and Midway elementary schools, Caracciolo said.
“We love the name New Hope,” Caracciolo said. “It echoes across the decades and endures as a positive vision and a message that the challenges that weigh us down in the past or today should never dissuade from imagining a better, more just and more love-filled future.”