Mary Neely Grissom has one of the best-kept secrets, and she’s sharing it

October 12
04:00 2017

By Busta Brown

The Chronicle

“If he could spend his money and time to build that building, people should know about him.” 

Mary Neely Grissom said this about The Neely School, built in 1908 by her grandfather Julius Erastus Neely.  During that time, educating black youth wasn’t available, so Julius took it upon himself to build the school for his children and the community.

Neely Grissom said, “My grandfather built the Neely School back in the woods to keep it from being burned down, it was so far in the back, you couldn’t see it.” With the help of family and the community, the school was well built and operated for 40 years.

She attended the school from the ages of 5 to 8 years old.

“I only lived less than a mile from the school, but other kids would walk as far as four to five miles every day,” she said. The one-room schoolhouse fit 20 students comfortably.

Granddaughter Mary and her family are now restoring The Neely School, as a tourist attraction and to educate the public about her grandfather Julius. The Neely House is on Neely Town Road in China Grove, N.C. The community is very excited and proud of the historic building. Mary said, “When I’m in town, I hear people say, ‘Wow, look at what we have. Can you believe it? I didn’t think we were going to be able to do this.’

During my interview, Mr. Grissom came downstairs to say hello, and tell me, “We’ve been fans of your radio show for years.”  I asked Mary how long they’ve been married, she said, “43 years.” and he jokingly yelled, “52”.

That’s only one of the fun and exciting moments that happened during my interview with Neely Grissom. Along with restoring her grandfather’s schoolhouse, she authorized a book to tell his story as well. The book is called “Little School in the Woods.” Emily M. Brewer is the writer, and she was kind enough to give me an advance copy; I love it. It’s a great book for the entire family; I look forward to reading it with my teen sons Cameron and Corey, and my 5-year-old, Nate.  You can enjoy my interview on the Winstonsalem Chronicle You Tube channel. For contact info and interviews, email her at

Mary Neely Grissom was born in Rowan County, N.C., to Mr. and Mrs. Julian Neely. She spent her formative years in and around China Grove, N.C. She attended Neelytown and China Grove elementary schools. She attended both Aggrey Memorial High School in Landis, N.C. and J.C. Price High School, in Salisbury, N.C. Mary enrolled at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) at age 16. She majored in French with a minor in Spanish and she studied English extensively. Upon graduation, she did post graduate studies at NCCU, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Wake Forest University, and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU).

She met her husband, Willie Grissom, at NCCU and they have one daughter, Marice Edwana, who also is a proud graduate of NCCU. Mary and Willie settled in Winston-Salem and she began her teaching career with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system, where she taught all levels – including elementary, middle and senior high school – for over 40 years. Mary has been enjoying retirement for 23 years.

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