KINSTON — Young H. Allen, Jr., the superintendent of the Robeson County school system for more than a decade, is being remembered as an instrumental figure in helping guide tri-racial Robeson County through desegregation during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Allen, who was 89, died July 16. He was best known locally for his tenure as superintendent of the Public Schools of Robeson County from 1965 to 1977.
“That was a crazy time, with a lot going on with the tri-racial issues there, more there than anywhere else, because in Robeson County, it was more than a matter of desegregating white schools and black schools, but the county had Native American schools as well,” said Katherine Gray, one of Allen’s three daughters. “ … He considered it his job to make it happen because it had become law at that point … He was serious about his job of completing desegregation. That was no small issue for him. There were many groups that did not want to comply.”
Allen was born to Young and Martha “Mattie” Allen on Jan. 1, 1925, in Peachland. Before starting his career in education, he served with the United States Army Air Corps, where he piloted planes during World War II. In August 1950, Allen married Helen Palmer Boyette of Carthage and soon they had three daughters, Pamela, Katherine and Melissa.
Allen began his career in education as a teacher and coach at St. Pauls High School during the 1950s. He would later become principal of Rowland Middle School before being made an assistant superintendent for Robeson County Schools, serving under Superintendent B.E. Littlefield. After serving under Littlefield for nine years, Allen was awarded the job of superintendent in 1965.
According to Purnell Swett, who like Humphrey had served under Allen as assistant superintendent, Allen was the right man at the right time.
“He had a rather awesome challenge to face, but he was the man of the hour,” said Swett, who would later become superintendent of the merged county system. “He was told that he would have to integrate the schools countywide evenly, and he convinced them that it was not a practical thing to do because you’d be transferring students from one side of the county to the other side because at the time the county itself was not integrated equally. He made sure that it was a peaceful transition … Then they said you have to integrate your faculty, and that went much smoother. He was able to work things out so that everything went smoothly. There were some areas where the parents didn’t want their kids to move to another school but that number became smaller as time went on.”
To Swett, Allen’s greatest strength was in his ability to create common ground.
“He was, what I would call, a consensus builder,” Swett said. “I would say he had some sleepless nights, because he had to make tough decisions and when you do that, you will have people who are going to agree with you and some people who are not.”
J.C. Humphrey, who served as assistant superintendent under Allen, said Allen was known statewide as “the Dean of Superintendents.”
“He had a way with people and communities and every year the state superintendent in Raleigh would call up the new beginning superintendents to Raleigh and he would ask Mr. Allen to come and give them advice,” Humphrey said. “He’d spend about half the day talking to the new superintendents about how to be successful at what they are doing. He did that for about 20 years.”
In 1977, Allen stepped down as Robeson County superintendent, taking on a new challenge as superintendent for Lenoir County schools, where he worked until his retirement in 1990.
Allen earned several honors and awards during his career, among them being named Outstanding School Superintendent in North Carolina in 1988, and in 2002 Allen was awarded the Longleaf Pine Award, the state’s highest civilian award.
“I cannot give him enough accolades for his qualities as a school administrator,” Humphrey said. “… I can say he was one of the best I ever worked for. Everyone just loved him.”
Among those Allen affected was lifelong friend Charles Kinlaw, who credits Allen with entrusting him with the job of principal at Allenton Elementary School.
“Young and I used to fish together quite often,” Kinlaw said. “That was his getaway. He would call me and ask me to meet him at the office, which really meant out on the pond. I thought a lot of Young … As far as superintendents go, he couldn’t have been any better and I don’t think any principal would say different. He was a smart man and one of the best Sunday school teachers I’ve ever seen. He taught every Sunday for years and years. He just had a quick wit and was such a gifted storyteller.”
Toward the end of his life, Allen struggled with Alzheimer’s disease, which according to Kinlaw was a particularly tragic fate for someone so known for his intelligence and wit.
A private burial was held on Monday, and a memorial will be held with two months. A date has not been determined..
Allen is survived by his wife, his daughters and sons-in-law, Pam Stowe and Harding Stowe, Katherine Gray and Lindsay Gray, and Melissa Allen.
“He always had such a huge interest in children of all ages. He was sort of child like himself,” Katherine Gray said. “If he walked in a room and there were children there, he would light up and gravitate toward them. He just had a passion for education and for people.”