B.H. Tharrington Primary School. J.J. Jones Intermediate School. Cora Beasley Elementary?
A group of local residents would like to see a county grade school renamed in memory of a teacher who died trying to save lives.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners held a regular meeting in Mount Airy Monday night. During an open session, local resident Jim Roberts addressed the board on the subject.
Roberts reminded county officials that it has been 60 years since Flat Rock School burned to the ground.
He said he and Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe were students at Mount Airy Junior High at the time. They heard the commotion created by the blaze, looked out a window and saw smoke rising in the sky in the distance.
One of his classmates with him had no idea that a few miles away her mother, Cora Beasley, was heroically saving lives in the midst of the chaos.
The schoolhouse in 1957 was made of wood and treated with oils that preserved the wood, but also made it more flammable. When the building caught fire, it took only 20 minutes for the entire school to burn down.
Six children were badly burned but survived. They became known as the Flat Rock Six. Four of the surviving members spoke to Flat Rock Elementary earlier this year about the tragedy: Marsha Lowe, Frank Hensley, Bobby Burkhart and Tamela Hiatt Midkiff.
Many folks didn’t have a lot of money, Midkiff said during that February address, and kids were often told “not to come home without your coat.” That decision led many students to be badly injured.
Hensley was one of those students who went to get his coat when the fire broke out. The fire grew so rapidly that he was caught in flames, and the result was an eight-month stay at the hospital.
In order to get the kids out of the rooms, teachers were practically throwing children out the windows before jumping out themselves.
“The high school students were some of our angels that day,” said Midkiff, explaining the older students were on the ground attempting to catch the falling students and teachers.
Hensley told students how third-grade student Larry Adams panicked and clutched tight to his desk that day.
Cora Beasley helped get students out the window and lowered them as far as she could reach from the second-floor window. When the other kids were gone, Beasley went to Adams and tried to get him up from his desk and to safety.
Hensley told that Larry died in the flames, and Mrs. Beasley died days later as a result of the injuries she sustained while attempting to rescue Larry.
Pictures of Adams and Beasley hang at Flat Rock to commemorate their lives.
Roberts told the commissioners Monday that as far as he knows Beasley is the only Surry County teacher known to have sacrificed her life for the sake of her school children.
“She deserves more than a picture in a hallway,” he said.
Mount Airy City Schools has just four campuses, but two are named for people. Surry County Schools has 19 campuses, and only one (J. Sam Gentry Middle) is named after a person.
Roberts said he and others would like to see Flat Rock Elementary renamed in Beasley’s memory.
He said he was told that such a name change could have expenses, but he believed that fundraisers could furnish whatever expenses might arise.
“If a thousand people gave 10 bucks, that would be $10,000,” he said.
He was looking for the board to offer its support.
Chairman Eddie Harris explained as he has in the past that the commissioners don’t like to make decisions rashly. They would prefer to think over such items and have a chance to talk amongst themselves or county staff before putting things to a vote, he said.
In keeping with that policy, the board did not act upon Roberts’ request on Monday.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.