STOKES COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Two Stokes County women have the integration of schools to thank for their 50-plus-year friendship. Now the elementary school where they met all those years ago, is pulling them together again for a different reason.

London Elementary School in Walnut Cove feels like home for Nellie Brown and Leslie Bray Brewer. It’s the place where they met and where the seed of lifelong friendship was planted.

“We just had a special bond. Leslie has always been Leslie. She’s always been sweet humble and kind,” said Nellie Brown, former LES student and current mayor of Walnut Cove.

More than 50 years have passed, and these friends are more like sisters now. But they met during a time when their closeness was considered taboo.

“Nellie and I actually started school in first grade when segregation was still in effect in this town, in this county,” said Leslie Bray Brewer, former LES student.

They started their formative years in schools that separated them by race. Nellie was at the only all-Black school in the county, which was LES, and Leslie at the all-white Walnut Cove Primary. Their schools were integrated in their second-grade year, which brought Leslie to LES as well.

Both women say in their younger years, they were unaware of their differences or the fact that racism existed. Nellie recalls school always being a loving and welcoming environment and the children always getting along.

“We were like a family … It was school, but it was a family,” Nellie said.

Leslie has the same memories, but she does recall the first time she was exposed to racism at three years old.

“My grandparents had a chicken farm, and my grandmother hired local Black people to come and work, and one of her workers, Ms. Alma, came one evening when it was a lot of the … white community in the yard. She brought her three-year-old granddaughter [Tonya]. Tonya and I were holding hands and skipping and a white male … came by and whispered to me and said, ‘You better be careful because that’ll rub off on you,’ … and I didn’t understand it. I thought, ‘What will rub off on me?’ That was my first introduction. It must have been a powerful one because you don’t remember a lot when you’re three years old, but I remember that.” Leslie said.

Despite the climate at the time, Leslie and Nellie became close in school, maintaining their friendship as they matriculated through the same junior high and high schools. They shared classes and extracurricular activities. They even spent time together outside of school, which is something Leslie said white and Black people didn’t do much back then.

“I started going to Nellie’s house in high school. Nellie had the best parties. She would have these parties in her basement, and the music was awesome. I was not a rock and roll girl. I was R&B soul. My parents didn’t know that, but now they do.” Leslie said. “In that day and time, we’re talking about the early 70s, you didn’t hang out. You really didn’t hang out. The white community didn’t let you … a lot didn’t want you to bring a Black person to your house. I think the Black community was way more inviting than the white was at that time. We could be friends in school, but after school, you didn’t hang out. You didn’t go out together to places in my community, and I had to hide that. I totally hid it.”

They each reached success in their own right. Nellie currently serves as the first Black woman mayor of Walnut Cove. Leslie is a pastor and founder of the nonprofit Times of Refreshing in Walnut Cove. They always kept each other close and their community first.

LES is bringing them together again. The fate of the school where their friendship began is in jeopardy. The Stokes County Board of Education included LES on a list of schools in the district that could possibly close due to the age of the buildings and low enrollment.

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Nellie and Leslie are working with others in the community to keep LES open not just for the memories they made there, but for the history the school holds and the fact that the school serves as a symbol of progress in Walnut Cove for many.

“Since we lived in the time of segregation and came through that, we have powerful lessons to teach these young people,” Leslie said.

A decision on LES has not been made yet. The school board will not take any action until they have a plan and host a public hearing.