Carolina Friends School was founded in 1962 as one of the first purposefully integrated schools in the South.
Thanks to the combined efforts of Peter and Martha Klopfer, Adolph and Krista Furth, Mildred Ringwalt, and David and Susan Smith, the School was from the beginning meant to be a very different kind of school and to be based on Quaker principles.
With a Little Help From Some Friends
In 1958, the Klopfers landed at what is now Raleigh-Durham International Airport from Cambridge, England. Their bags were placed on the grassy end of the runway, and the facilities included four bathrooms, marked “colored women,” “ladies,” “colored men,” and “gentlemen.” Peter had accepted a job in Duke University’s Biology Department, and the couple bought land in the rural buffer between Durham and Chapel Hill, where roads (including Erwin and Mt. Sinai) were unmarked, unpaved clay.
They soon faced a challenge: how to educate their children in an area where schools were segregated. Peter had attended a Quaker school and Martha had attended a school with similar values. Together with a few other families in the Durham and Chapel Hill Friends Meetings, they began to imagine a Quaker school that would welcome children of all races. Having secured a grant of $6,000 for an “exploratory study,” they used the money instead to hire a teacher and operate the school for a year.
Read about Peter Klopfer's Civil Rights Supreme Court Case
Carolina Friends School started as a program for five-year-olds at Durham Friends Meeting in 1964, and during the next year a similar program opened at Chapel Hill Friends Meeting. The founders sought a site for an independent Lower School, but met some resistance within the Meetings over concerns that an integrated independent school might interfere with the need for public schools’ becoming integrated themselves. And the heat around the issue of integration meant that many neighborhoods would not welcome the presence of such a school. The founders eventually decided to build a Lower School on the Klopfers’ land, on what was then called Couch Road (now Friends School Road).
Making a Home in the Community
The integrated character of the School drew much attention, some of it hostile. On one occasion the Lower School was dynamited by members of the KKK – this in a time when the county sheriff patrol cars broadcast TWK ("Trade with the Klan") placards. But even in the presence of resistance, seeds of change gave the early families hope. The Klopfers recall the time when a couple dropped off their child for his first day at CFS and at pickup time were horrified to find that he had been in class with Black students. Not expecting to see the family again, teachers were pleasantly surprised when they returned, somewhat sheepishly, because their son very much wanted to return to CFS.
Word of Carolina Friends School spread throughout the community. An annual crafts fair held on the Lower School campus helped to educate people about CFS. A science teacher won a national award, and the county schools began sending teachers to CFS for professional development. When a teacher refused to support the Vietnam War through paying federal tax, declaring as his exemptions “the population of the world, because anyone’s death affects me,” his court trial attracted media attention and educated many about the peace testimony. The varied service projects that took students and teachers out into the community also made an important statement about the values at the center of a CFS education.
The 1970s–1990s: A Time of Expansion
By 1970, CFS enrolled 250 students. In 1971, four prefab, World War II-era buildings were moved to campus, and a Middle School opened. Not long after, an Upper School program began, in conjunction with Guilford College, where students could take their final courses. In 1973, CFS awarded diplomas to Willis “Bunk” James and Tyree Barnes, two African-American students who had been dismissed from their public high schools for participating in the civil rights movement. In 1974, CFS graduated a class of ten students, and in 1975, the Upper School log cabin opened its doors and began offering a four-year curriculum. At this time, with only two Early Schools, CFS accommodated approximately 425 students.
By the mid-80s the CFS Upper School was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as one of the nation’s “exemplary private secondary schools.” During the 1980s and ‘90s further improvements were made to the main campus. The Center building was constructed by contractor and former School parent Bob Calhoun and completed in 1986. The Campus Early School—a house purchased with donated funds and moved from a location halfway down the Mt. Sinai Road hill—opened in 1988, and the Shop was completed in 1991.
A New Century
The School has continued to expand and improve its physical spaces while maintaining its dedication to its founding values and commitment to providing an excellent education to children from a diversity of backgrounds. The School has gained additional athletic fields, art studios, science and computer labs. Existing structures have been retrofitted with newer, environmentally friendly features such as geothermal heating. All this has been done while retaining an intimate student community of around 500 students. In 2014-2015, Carolina Friends School celebrated its 50th anniversary. Many gatherings were held throughout the year, including the first ever FriendsFest. We compiled a collection of essays, short stories, poems, and remembrances, 27 Views of Carolina Friends School, with the guidance of Elizabeth Woodman, former CFS parent and current CEO of Eno Publishing. Authors included three principals, 10 staff members (former and current), nine alums, 20 parents (former and current), two co-founders, one basketball coach, and many published authors. Thanks to the Building Friends Capital Campaign , begun in 2011, many renovations and additions to campus were made, culminating in the construction of a new Performing Arts Center in 2018.
The formation of a school open to children of all races and founded on Friends’ principles, it was quickly agreed, would be the most useful step we could take. We took it, and it was. Peter Klopfer, co-founder