Warrenton High School — Warrenton, North Carolina

Warrenton High School, Warrenton, NC
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Warrenton High School, Warrenton, NC

Reunion Apparel for Warrenton High School
Warrenton High School

N. Main St. at Ridgeway St.
Warrenton, NC
Warren County

nickname: Yellow Jackets
colors: Blue & Gold

Warrenton High School could trace its roots back to 1786, when Warrenton Academy was founded. The school operated continuously from that time, making WHS not only one of the oldest schools in North Carolina, but one of the oldest in the United States. As was common at that time, Warrenton Academy was probably operated in a house, church or one-room schoolhouse. In 1800, the school trustees raised funds to build a larger structure. (I couldn’t find a record of where this new building was located, but it is likely it was near Plummer Street.)

At some point between 1800 and 1818, the name was changed to Warrenton Male Academy, possibly to distinguish it from the Warrenton Female Academy. The girl’s academy was opened in 1808 by Jacob Mordecai, a former teacher at Warrenton Academy. The few records I could find indicate Warrenton Male Academy flourished all through the 1800’s. The Female Academy seems to have been extremely successful through the 1820’s, but a shortage of qualified teachers and increased competition from other academies seem to point to its demise in the 1830’s.

In 1885, the Fitts-Mordecai-Plummer house at 210 Plummer Street housed the first school named Warrenton High School. It was an African-American school devoted to training teachers and ministers. The name was changed to Shiloh Institute within a very few years.

Meanwhile, Professor John Graham had been operating a successful boy’s school in Ridgeway. In 1897 his school was destroyed by a fire. He then took over the Warrenton Male Academy, moving most of his old students to Warrenton. He renamed the academy Warrenton High School, but it was most frequently referred to as John Graham High School. He purchased the Somerville home to serve as a dormitory and dining hall.

Sometime around 1905, Prof. Graham opened Warrenton High School to girls and purchased the Fitts-Mordecai-Plummer house to serve as the girl’s dormitory. (The Shiloh Institute, who owned the house, moved its school to Norlina.) On the 1915-1916 list of schools recognized by the Commission on Accredited Schools of the Southern States, Warrenton High School is listed under “Private Schools”, with Prof. John Graham as the principal. A similar report in 1920 still listed Prof. Graham as the principal.

In the fall of 1969, the John R. Hawkins High School was closed and all Hawkins students were transferred to Graham High School. (See our blog post about John R. Hawkins High School.)

Oddly enough, I could find very few references to Warrenton High School (or John Graham High School) after 1920. The Warrenton High School building at the corner of Main & Ridgeway was designed by noted architect Christopher Sayre in 1922. The last graduating class at Warrenton High School was in 1981. I’m just assuming that in the fall of 1981, all students moved into the new Warren County High School. I didn’t find any information about what happened to the school building after 1981.


I’m sure Warrenton had a long and successful athletics program. Hopefully an alumni will share some memories with us.

The North Carolina High School Athletics Association keeps records for some sports back a hundred years, others just ten or fifteen years. According to their statistics, Warrenton High School made it into the State Finals three times. They lost all three games, but there are many NC high schools who wish they could say they were three-time State Runners-up.

Reunion Apparel for John Graham High School

1961 – Lost to Windsor in the Class A State Finals, 15-14
1962 – Lost to Warsaw James Kenan in the Class A State Finals, 38-23

1962 – Lost to Colfax in the Class A State Finals, 53-47

Alumni (plus one)

A Few Notable Graduates…
– Dr. Frank Porter Graham graduated around 1904. He became a US Senator and president of UNC.
– NC Rep. Philip Franklin Hanes graduated in 1907.
– US Sen. Herbert C. Bonner graduated in 1909.
Robert B. House, the first Chancellor of UNC, graduated around 1910.

Good things must have been in the air in 1912 at Warrenton High School.
– NC State Senator Archibald Cree Gay graduated from Warrenton High School in 1912.
– NC State Representative Robert H. Rouse graduated from Warrenton High School in 1912.
– Franklin Wills Hancock, Jr., graduated from Warrenton High School 1912. He became a NC State Senator, State Representative, US Representative and US Senator.

Simon Terrell graduated around 1942. In 2006, he was inducted into the NCHSAA Hall of Fame. Here’s part of his induction biography:
Terrell, born in Warrenton in 1924, was a three-sport star at John Graham High school. After a 3-year stint in the Merchant Marine, he was hired as an emergency teacher/coach at Warrenton. He guided the football team to the only undefeated season in school history; coached the girls and boys basketball teams to county championships and won the league title in baseball.
You can read the rest of Simon’s bio here.

Do you remember Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice? In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s he was a pretty good football player at UNC and for the Washington Redskins. He’s in the College Football Hall of Fame. There’s a statue of him outside the Charlie Justice wing of the UNC athletic center. Anyway, he received his high school diploma from Warrenton High School even though he never attended a day of classes there. Charlie left Lee Edwards High School early to enlist during World War II. He finished his high school coursework in the Navy. When he was finishing up his All-American stint at UNC, it was discovered he didn’t have a high school diploma. Warrenton recognized free publicity when it saw it, so in 1950, Charlie walked down the aisle of Warrenton High School and received a high school diploma with the other graduates.

There were 43 graduates in the Class of 1940.
There were 199 graduates in the Class of 1976. All their names are listed in this 1976 Commencement Program from John Graham High School.


The Sept. 3, 1951 issue of Life Magazine featured a pictorial on Warrenton’s Hospitality Weekend, a 3-day party for high school and college students on summer break.

Here’s a website about reunions, cruises and doings of the Class of ’76.

There are over 300 Graham High School alumni on Classmates.com.

Warrenton, NC has its own Facebook group.


Warrenton High School Class of 1911
Warrenton High School 1931 Women’s Basketball team
Warrenton, NC Courthouse & Confederate Monument
Recent photos of the Warrenton High School building


I believe all the above is accurate, but some of it was assumptions on my part based on logic and darts. For example, the class of ’76 website is decorated with images of a stinging bug and they had gold(ish) and black table settings in their 30th reunion photos. And one guy had on a yellow shirt with black trim. Therefore WHS/JGHS became the Yellow and Black Yellowjackets according to me. (But some alert alumni have since corrected me. The colors were Blue & Gold. Was I right about Yellowjackets?)

If you have any corrections, memories, or additional info about WHS/JGHS, please leave a comment below.


Not being from the area, I knew nothing about Warrenton/John Graham when I researched the original post. Based on comments & emails I’ve received, it’s clear that everyone agrees the name of the school was John Graham High School. However, the original name was Warrenton High School. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association always refers to it as Warrenton High School in its record books. But, they do occasionally call it John Graham in Hall of Fame narratives and other correspondence. So, I have a theory; I’m hoping someone will do some research to confirm this.

My Theory of the Day: At some point, the name of the school was officially changed in honor of its founder, John Graham. Since there was already another Graham High School (in Graham, North Carolina), the NCHSAA continued to call it WHS to prevent confusion. Everywhere else I’ve seen it referred to as Warrenton High School (news articles, etc.), simply means “the high school in Warrenton.”

And all that probably means nothing to anybody but me. It just drives me crazy that I can’t figure out how one school can have two names. Then again, I’m still baffled about how a June bug can be fluorescent green in the South and brown in the North.

26 thoughts on “Warrenton High School — Warrenton, North Carolina

  1. As a 1972 graduate of John Graham High School, born in Warren County, the school colors were blue and gold. Also I never heard it called Warrenton High School. In my lifetime it was always John Graham High School.

  2. After the new high school was built in 1981, John Graham became a Middle School. It continued to operate as a Middle school serving grades 7 and 8 until the new middle school was built sometime after 1992.

  3. Class of 1971, we are having our 40th Reunion in June. The school colors were Blue and Gold, I played baseball for four years and footbal my junior and senior year. Our baseball team went to the state playoffs my freshman year which would have been the spring of 1968. We lost to Ayden-Grifton HS. I remember a lot of good times in high school but it was also a time of turmoil due to racial tensions.

  4. I’m a 1971 graduate of John Graham High School. Two years earlier, there were were two high schools in the town of Warrenton; John R. Hawkins which the Black high school, and John Graham which was for Whites and Native Americans. I attended John R. Hawkins in my freshman and sophomore years, and John Graham in my junior and senior years. There was a lot of racial tension after the schools joined. The whites felt their world was shaken up by a lot of newcomers that they had never had to associate with before, and the blacks felt their identity was lost in the white high school. This erupted into an actual riot the resulted in scores of black students spending the night in jail and getting suspended for up to a week. Over time, we learned to co-exist, and I’m looking forward to our 40th reunion in June having BLACK, WHITE, and NATIVE participation. It has been 40 years and we need to move on as a society and as a class. Go YellowJackets!

    Curtis Silver

    1. Thanks for this post Curtis. I didn’t know that history of Hawkins and JGHS and the riots. I went to Hawkins Jr. High from 1973 to 1976 and it was integrated at that time. I went to Haliwa Indian School for 1st and 2nd grades but was integrated into Miriam Boyd Elementary in 1969. I remember the tension over which students would have to go to Vaughn Elementary or Miriam Boyd. Wish I knew then what I know now.

  5. My class graduated in 1981 from John Graham High School although I didn’t attend there my junior and senior year. I attended John R. Hawkins in grades 7-9 and John Graham in grade 10. My mom Arnetra Johnson taught at John R. Hawkins for a great many years and also taught at the new Warren County High School. I’d be happy to put you in contact with folks who could give you accurate history of the area if you wish. Also I encourage you to visit the town for a real down home southern hospitality experience.

    1. Hi Keith,
      You posted that you attended Warrenton High School/ John Graham High School. My dad went there in the late 70’s and to this day I’ve never even seen his picture (he died a long time ago). Do you by chance have an old year book with James Scott William’s picture in it? His DOB was 8/26/61. Any help would be very much appreciated!

      Miriam Hiler

  6. As a child growing up in Wise, NC, my father always called it John Graham High School, however, it is correct to say Warrenton High School. My father was the Principal at North Warren High School and my mother was a 6th Grade school teacher. My parents where there when the school was named Warren County Training School. They retired in 1972.

  7. I am a member of the 1981 graduating class of John Graham and former band member. I am currently, teaching (for more than 21 years) at South Warren Elementary School. John Graham High School was best noted for its remarkable marching band. The Yellow Jackets can be very proud to acknowledge that the band tradition continues to be one of the best all across the US.

    1. Hi Dr. Faines,
      You posted that you attended Warrenton High School/ John Graham High School. My dad went there in the late 70’s and to this day I’ve never even seen his picture (he died a long time ago). Do you by chance have an old year book with James Scott William’s picture in it? His DOB was 8/26/61. Any help would be very much appreciated!

      Miriam Hiler

  8. Thanks for this information, I was looking for details about the school and area. have discovered that one of my ancestors had land transactions bordering the north side of the school. Graduated in 1966. We did have two African Americans in my class, the first to graduate from John Graham High. Luckily we did not have the turmoil that later classes had. Several of my class mates have passed on, one was my good friend Travis Aycock, another George Stegall, and another G.C. Roberson, peace to them.

  9. My grandmother graduated in class of ’50 I believe. I am trying to track down an old annual from her senior year. If anyone has any helpful information on where I might be able to find one of these or even one to just have copied, please let me know!


  10. Just a note to Al Cooper about losing to “Ayden-Grifton”
    To be accurate, in 1968, the high school that John Graham High School lost to was Ayden High School. The towns of Ayden and Grifton consolidated in the fall of 1971.
    I also recall that Ayden High School lost to John Graham High in triple overtime in a basketball game in Durham in 1962. I would love to see the news clipping on that game if anyone has it.

    1. I pulled this out of the ethersphere somewhere. Some of the print was very hard to read, so if I mis-typed a name, somebody please correct me.
      March 24, 1962 – Warrenton Seeking Crown in Class A Finals Tonight
      DURHAM (AP) Warrenton and Colfax collide here tonight with the Class A high school basketball title at stake.
      Warrenton came from behind and finally beat Ayden, 55-51, in four overtimes, and Colfax beat Valley Springs, 65-48, in Friday night’s semi-finals.
      Warrenton trailed through most of the game, but tied the score at 49-all on Chockey White’s field goal as the buzzer sounded. There was no scoring in the first three overtime periods, and Warrenton out-scored Ayden 6-2 in the fourth overtime.
      Colfax forged ahead in the second period and held a 31-27 lead at the half. A 22-point spree in the fourth quarter put the game on ice for Colfax.
      Tonight’s title game is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Friday night’s losers meet in the consolation game at 7 o’clock.
      The Warrenton Yellow Jackets, Halifax-Warren Conference Champs, fell behind by five points at the first quarter break, 12-7, but they quickly erased that lead in the second period and went into the dressing room at half-time tied with Ayden at 20-all.
      Ayden once again pulled into the lead in the third quarter and held that margin until Warrenton’s Billy Benson hit a jumper with 27 seconds left to give the Yellow Jackets a 47-47 tie.
      Ayden’s David McLawhorn hit a couple of clutch free throws for his team with 11 seconds remaining to give Ayden a two point spread, 49-47, and bright hopes for a win, but senior guard White came through like a champ hitting a long 30-foot jumper as the final buzzer sounded to send the semi-final match into its first overtime.
      Warrenton used ball-holding tactics in the first three overtimes, hoping to get an easy shot, but Ayden’s tough defense stopped them cold. In the fourth and final overtime period the Yellow Jackets changed their attack as they came out shooting, and this move proved to be wise as Warrenton quickly jumped in front of Ayden for good to get the pressure packed victory.
      Warrenton’s well-balanced scoring attack saw three players hit in double figures, while two others scored nine each. Husky senior Clinton Neal paced the Yellow Jackets with 14 points, while White and Halthrock added 12 and 10 respectively. Benson and Herman Rooker hit nine each for Warrenton.
      Tonight’s championship battle gives Warrenton Just Cause to worry. Trying to stop Colfax’s tremendous one-two scoring Punch of Bennie McGee and Larry Morgan heads the list of problems Warrenton must face.
      Morgan and McGee combined for 51 of Colfax’s 63 points last night as the twosome paced their team into the finals. In Colfax’s first round win they combined for 71 points, Morgan scoring 41, while McGee added 30.
      (note: Colfax won the championship game, 53-47)

  11. I attended John Graham High School in Warrenton, N.C. from 1965 to 1968, before my family moved. I played football with Coach Jimmy Webb, who was tough as nails. He was an East Carolina Teachers College ( now ECU) graduate, and I understand later went on to become the principal at the Outer Banks High School. I just finished reading John Grisham’s book, “Bleachers” which made me think of him. Does anyone know where/what happened to Coach Jimmy Webb ? I’ve done web searches, with no avail.

    1. Jimmy Webb now lives in Buxton NC, and I believe today is his birthday. He was the Principal of Currituck High School in the late 70s, and then went on to Cape Hatteras High School.

  12. Thanks for this informative article, which I found while looking for information on Warrenton Academy. My late stepmother, Mary Cary Harris Bencoach, graduated from John Graham HS. Her extended Harris/Davis family had been in the area for many years.

    I’m presently doing some research to list a book on ebay which has a sticker from the Warrenton Academy Library (labeled as “No. 164” which I imagine was its catalog number). The book is “Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa” by Mungo Park, Surgeon, published in Philadelphia in 1800. It has many writings and crude drawings on the inside covers and leaves, in pencil and brown quill, including variations on signatures by a very young and then maturing Robert Park, and finally, a notation in script, “Presented to the Academy By R. Park.”

  13. i am the president of historically united high school class of 1969. i would like to know is there is a active class of 1969 from Warrenton.

    if so i would like to touch based with one of the members

    faye lucas

  14. My name is Miriam Hiler, I’m in desperate need of info on Warrenton High School. I was told my father was a student there likely in the late 70’s – his name was James Scott Williams, DOB 8/26/61. I’ve never even seen a picture of him. Would anyone know where I could find any old year books that might have his picture? Please help. It would mean the world to me. solseeker76@gmail

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