A Small History of A.L. Stanback: the Man and the School
The history of our school and Albert Leon Stanback dates as far back as 1936; sixty years before the dedication of Stanback Middle School. In was in 1936 when Hillsborough School was established for the African-American children of Orange County, North Carolina. Mr. C.E. Hester was the first principal of this school whose teachers faced annual election to their positions. Among the teachers that joined the Hillsborough faculty during Hester’s administration were Albert Leon Stanback and his wife Catherine. It was in 1942, that Mr. A.L. Stanback became principal of Hillsborough High School, inheriting a faculty of 14 teachers and a student body of 400.
Mr. Stanback came to Hillsborough from Rock Hill, South Carolina where he taught at Clinton Jr. College and also coached two sports. It was there that he started the local chapter of Boy Scouts. Stanback’s grandfather, Dublin Walker, was a Reconstruction era Senator in South Carolina in 1874, and A.L.’s father was in education. Stanback’s wife, Catherine Stanback, taught French and English with A.L. and continued to teach after his death in 1964. She retired in 1979 after 42 years of teaching.
During the administration of Mr. Stanback, the school and the community would face change, joy, and sorrows. In 1943, Hillsborough High School became Central High School. The name change coincided with the growing population of the school, and the need to separate the elementary and high school age students. The consistent lack of funding for Orange County’s segregated school had left it in a state of insufficiency. Under Stanback’s leadership, the school saw the addition of lights in 1946 and a new lunchroom in 1952. New construction for a gymnasium and main building would begin in 1958 and 1960, but tragedy had to spark this work.
Catherine Stanback, in an interview with Donna Ruffin-Villines (1998), recalled that A.L. frequently would have to respond to vandalism and disturbances which occurred at Central High after hours. One tragic night in 1958, the same year as Little Rock’s (Ark.) Central High School’s integration, the Stanbacks received the call that Central High School had burned down in a crime that went unsolved. In the wake of this tragedy, Stanback oversaw the construction of a new gymnasium and with it a celebration featuring famous performers like Tina Turner and Otis Redding. Stanback had turned the tragedy of a crime into a new beginning. By 1962, Central High School was now equipped with a “300” wing classroom building.
In the first decade of Hillsborough High School’s existence, it faced crippling drop out rates. During Stanback’s administration, the student population grew from 400 students in 1942 to 782 students in 1952 and to 1200 students by 1964. In 22 years, the number of teachers grew from 14 to 44. Each May saw school sponsored parades in downtown Hillsborough with band performances. In 1962, Stanback witnessed an educational rally in which Central High students created a large crowd to speak with Governor Terry Sanford. Stanback’s leadership was evident in the numbers, the enthusiasm of the students, and his words. In the 1962 edition of the Blue Flame Stanback wrote,
“Today, more than ever before, as you make your debut into the outside world you should plan to enter the parade of progress, realizing there is a service each of you can render individually in the promotion of a better world in which to live. May you forever be aware of the fact that increased interest in education is essential if you are to climb the ladder to economic and social security, and from your common efforts you may see your goals fulfilled and feel the glow from having shared in the advancement of the human race.”
Stanback saw his students as contributors to society. He stressed to his students the necessity of preparedness to live in “a world of great confusion and uncertainty.” With the 1960 Greensboro Sit-Ins, North Carolina had been thrust into the middle of the Civil Rights Movement; a movement, which in North Carolina, was sparked by college students not too much older than Central’s pupils. Mr. Stanback seems to have provided stability and calm to his students during this time. He called for “faith in the future, and confidence in yourself.”
Albert Leon Stanback died in March of 1964. Central High School students were deeply sorrowed by their loss. On March the 23rd, 1964, a memorial service was held in the gymnasium that Stanback had built in 1958. On the 26th, the News of Orange ran a tribute to A.L. Stanback, and on May 15th the Central High School Awards Day ceremony was dedicated to A.L. Stanback’s memory. The next year, the Senior Class of 1965 dedicated the Blue Flame to Stanback’s memory. Their love of Stanback is demonstrated in what they wrote,
“To our beloved Principal, Albert Leon Stanback, whose strong character, indomitable courage, unstinted and unselfish dedication to duty in the cause of education has endeared him in our hearts. Such indicia of character has given rise to the high esteem in which he was held by the people of this community and has set an example of leadership, moral standards and good which will be hard to follow. We the Senior Class of 1965, memorialize our fallen leader.”
A.L. Stanback’s death changed education in Orange County, not only because of the loss of a leader, but because his students became inspired to change the world in which they lived.
Civil Rights demonstrations throughout the South, some of which led by high school and elementary school students, provided the blue print for demonstrations in late 1960’s Hillsborough. While the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision had struck down segregation in schools in 1954, the process of integration was difficult and met with great resistance throughout the South. Black students were not allowed to attend and were even forbidden to enter the halls of Hillsborough High School (Orange High School). Central High School students, ready to integrate Orange High School and to demand equal educational services as white students, marched through downtown Hillsborough led by student leader Freddie Parker. Peace and order was maintained by students while they were arrested. The year 1968 would see that last senior class from Central High School, meaning that Orange County would begin to integrate.
In 1969, to honor the memory of Albert Leon Stanback, Central High School was renamed A.L. Stanback School. Stanback School served as an elementary school until it housed just 6th and 7th grades from 1975-95. In 1996, a newly constructed middle school was dedicated in Orange County, bearing the name of A.L. Stanback.
While our school has held many names and occupied different buildings and locations, the common thread which links 1936 to today is the person and hopefully the spirit of A.L. Stanback. I am proud to know a little of the history behind the person for whom my school is named.
1998 Hillsborough Negro School 1936-1968: The First State Supported Negro School in Orange County, N.C. Master’s Thesis.
Stanback, Albert L.
1962 “Principal’s Message to the Senior Class.” The Blue Flame.
Class of 1965
1965 “In Memoriam.” The Blue Flame.