Photo credits: North Carolina Historic Sites/Greensboro Convention and Visitor’s Bureau
The Alice Freeman Palmer Memorial Institute, better known as Palmer Memorial Institute, was a school for upper class African Americans.
It was founded on November 23, 1902, by Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown (pictured left) at Sedalia, North Carolina near Greensboro. Palmer Memorial Institute was named after Alice Freeman Palmer, former president of Wellesley College and benefactor of Dr. Brown.
It became, before its closure in the 1970s, a fully accredited, nationally recognized preparatory school. More than 1,000 African American students attended the school between 1902 and 1970.
Bennett College purchased the Palmer campus, but in 1980 it sold 40 acres of the main campus with major surviving buildings to the American Muslim Mission. The Muslims, who belong to the community, which followed, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, tried to establish a teacher’s college.
However, they abandoned this project due to the bad condition of the campus.
In late 1982, Maria Cole, a niece of Dr. Brown’s and widow of late singer Nat King Cole, and friend Marie Gibbs of Greensboro began an effort to obtain recognition of Dr. Brown’s social and educational contributions.
This effort was specifically in regard to Palmer Memorial Institute. Both women, who were former students at Palmer Memorial Institute, sponsored meetings of Palmer alumni and enlisted support for this cause. They also met with North Carolina’s Division of Archives and History to explore ideas.
Through the assistance of North Carolina Senator Bill Martin, a special bill was passed in the 1983 General Assembly. This action allowed for planning by Archives and History of the state’s first African American state historic site as a memorial to Dr. Brown.
In November 1987, the memorial officially opened as a state historic site.
*BlackThen.com writer and historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.