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Students, staff remember impact of W.T. Brown on education in Cumberland County

Posted November 17

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— Students at William T. Brown Elementary School in Spring Lake are too young to remember the impact their school's namesake had on education in Cumberland County, but they've spent the three days since Brown's passing learning more about an educational trailblazer.

Brown, who served as a principal at several Fayetteville schools during desegregation in the 1960s and later became a trustee at Fayetteville State University, passed away Monday at the age of 87.

Fifth-grader Marinia McCottry said her parents told her about Brown's impact on the community. Marinia spent part of the day Thursday drawing pictures and scribbling words in his memory.

"He has always been a very important part in her life," Marinia said of her mother. "He was a very kind man, and he believed in equal rights. So, it doesn't matter what race you are, you should get a fair education."

Earlier in the year, students at the school wrote letters to Brown as he fought cancer.

"His name is on the school, and I knew that he was always still here even though he passed away," student Chantel Noel Cure said.

Principal Shanessa Fenner said Brown used to visit before his health declined.

"I've been here four years, and the first two years he would come out. We would walk around, talk about the students, talk about my vision," she said.

Fenner said it's an honor to be the principal at a school named after a man who became a mentor to so many.

"It's wonderful, because I'm used to hearing about things being named for people, but a lot of times it happens after they are deceased," she said. "So, to be somewhere where the person is actually alive, it was like a blessing. I would reach out to him and talk to him, and he actually became one of my mentors."

Former Cumberland County Schools Superintendent John Griffin called Brown just that, a mentor. He said the news of Brown's passing was sad for the entire community.

"To hear his death, I knew he had been ailing physically, but mentally, Dr. Brown was still strong," Griffin said.

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