Wednesday, August 4, 2021

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Clearing for residential development reveals historical site in McCray community

Up until about two months ago, Keith Bradshaw, along with most anyone else, had all but forgotten about the wooden buildings nestled under brush along North N.C. Highway 62.

It was the clearing of nearly 280 acres by a developer — currently in the beginning stages of a residential development — that revealed the roughly century-old storehouse and smokehouse that Bradshaw’s great-grandfather had built and which had been preserved as a little piece of his legacy.

Other pieces have long since disappeared, like the family’s farmhouse, built on the same site and home to Samuel and Rose Bradshaw and their seven children, along with their expansive apple and peach orchards.

KEITH BRADSHAW

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Prior to the decades of overgrowth and subsequent reclearing, the family farmed the land, raising tobacco, corn, and livestock.

Still, despite the once-thriving farm and the buildings that have stood as a testament to his great-grandfather’s enduring craftsmanship, the structure that Keith Bradshaw is proudest of is the one that continues to influence his life.

The McCray School, opened by Samuel in 1915, sits just over a mile up the road from the family’s home-place. Though its white paint has largely chipped away, the oneroom schoolhouse, built by the great-grandfather for his family and around a dozen of the community’s other African American children, appears to be in good condition due, in part, to a restoration in the 1980’s by the county’s historical properties commission.

“He believed in education,” Bradshaw says of his greatgrandfather. “He wanted his children — all my great-aunts and uncles — to read and write, add and subtract. And they done well in life.”

McCray School students received a thorough education, Bradshaw says, with the children arriving Monday through Friday, some from miles away, for the six-hour school day. School was in session from October 1 to April 1, allowing the students to help their families in the fields during the main growing season.

McCray’s primary teacher was Margaret Morgan, though Viola Bradshaw Day, then a child herself, stepped in as a substitute when needed. Both women focused their lessons on reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The clearing of nearly 280 acres along the highway has revealed the remains of the family’s farm, like the storehouse shown above. Still standing just over a mile up the road is another Bradshaw building, the McCray School that Samuel Bradshaw opened in 1915 for his and the community’s children.

Education was the gateway to opportunity for the children, who weren’t allowed to attend the neighboring whites-only school.

“He wanted to learn,” Bradshaw told The Alamance News last week, referring to his grandfather, Charlie. “His siblings wanted to learn. They wanted to know about things and explore, and his father wanted that for his children, because some way or another he probably didn’t get it through my great-great-grandparents.”

The hunger for more — more education, more opportunity — passed down through the family, motivating Bradshaw, now retired, to a decades-long career spanning both the Alamance and Guilford county sheriff ’s departments. The inspiration has also reached his son, who, after receiving his master’s degree, joined the Navy and now serves as a lieutenant.

“My grandfather told me when I was growing up that they wanted to do more for me than they could’ve done for their children,” Bradshaw says. “So each step you do better, not go back. You progress.”

After completing their education and coming of age in the small farming community, the seven Bradshaw siblings set out, some moving to New York, securing jobs with large companies like General Motors, and others, like Bradshaw’s grandfather, staying in the area to farm.

The schoolhouse closed in 1951 after it and a few others were consolidated. After leaving the farm a year later, Charlie and his own family moved inside of Burlington’s city limits, where he worked for and later retired from the city’s public works department.

As fractured as other areas of the nation were leading up to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, Bradshaw says the farm families that lived in McCray never did reflect the racial tension of the bigger cities.

“I used to ask [Charlie] did he ever run into any kind of racism when he was growing up,” Bradshaw recalls. “He said those people that were in that community loved each other, white and black. And I seen that growing up.”

The families played together and worked together, regularly sharing equipment and helping each other make a living.

Simply, he says, “They believed in each other.”

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