100 years on the Silver Hill


Mercer Blanco, Op/Ed Editor

   On January 18th, 2023, three days after the 100th birthday of our RJ Reynolds High School, there was an exciting event in the media center. Many people gathered for the unveiling of the much-anticipated mural depicting the last 100 years at RJR. It is positioned on the wall outside the media center as you enter the school on the 2nd floor at the landing. Nick Bragg, a renowned local artist connected to our school and local history, created the piece. Many years of research and collaboration went into the design and development of this creative mural.

The crowd sits in the media center listening to the speech Bragg Wrote.

     For reference, Bragg was born in 1936, when RJR was already 13 years old. He graduated from Wake Forest University and attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where he studied history. Afterward, Bragg worked at the Department of Archives in Raleigh and moved to Winston-Salem, where he was the Director of Education at Old Salem and the Director of Reynolda House. He was a perfect choice to create this mural, with his knowledge of the history of Winston-Salem and RJR, both professionally and from calling this place home. The mural is also the work that he completed primarily during the pandemic. 

    Entitled “Silver Hill to Diversity,” the mural depicts 100 years in our city and at our school. RJR alum and former assistant principal Karen Morris is familiar with the project and helped organize the unveiling ceremony co-sponsored by the RJR Alumni Association and the RJR PTSA. 

    “Since Nick Bragg had been the lead in the renovation of the RJR Auditorium in 2002 and continued to be involved in the Arts Magnet Program at RJR in various ways, he was asked if he would be willing to create a centennial mural for RJ Reynolds High School,” Morris said. “Harry Corpening, The President of the RJR Alumni Association, asked Nick Bragg to create the mural and shepherded the project to its completion.” 

    Bragg and his knowledge of historical events at RJR engaged current students and teachers as he prepared to paint the mural. 

    “Three years ago, he went to several visual arts classes and taught them about his mural process,” Morris said. “Students helped to brainstorm the images that should be included in the mural and gave Mr. Bragg context as to why they think those images should be included.” 

    As the mural was in the works at Bragg’s studio, the decision of where to hang it in our beautiful and historic building came next.  

    “Dr. Alexander, who was principal at the time, suggested above the wood railing by room 210,” Morris said. “The media center walls are too high for people to be able to see much of the mural, the lighting in the hallway by the courtyard windows was good, and it would be in plain sight of security cameras.” 

Special 100 year cookies on display for anyone who attended the unveiling. (Photo provided by Cece Butler.)

    The location of the mural also factored into its size. Bragg chose a 3-foot by 10-foot footprint for this piece of art. 

    “When Mr. Bragg was ready to paint the mural, he came to RJR and met with Ms. Kirkland, Mr. Freeman, Stephanie Kennedy, and myself to discuss where it should go,” Morris said. “Mr. Bragg talked with many RJR alums and current students to generate ideas for the mural. He even looked at yearbooks from every decade and used those to help with the images and history.”

        Despite 100 years since its establishment, RJR remains very similar to its original state, filled with a rich history of community and connections.

    “The thing I love most about RJR is the community and the connection,” Morris said. “As a student, every time we went on a field trip or rode the bus back from a game, we sang the Alma Mater. My children had that same experience!” 

    Bragg also illustrates RJR’s march towards diversity in his mural, highlighting the inclusive environment our high school strives for. 

    “When Reynolds opened in 1923, only white students attended,” Morris said. “That is one big difference. We have come so far and see our diversity as one of the school’s greatest strengths. Reynolds is diverse in so many ways and has opportunities for everyone. You don’t have to be a certain way, take certain classes, or participate in certain things as a student at RJR–and that is one of the things that I believe makes RJR successful for 100 years. We have also changed and grown as needs have changed. RJ Reynolds has really succeeded in helping students and staff have what they need to be successful. Wherever you are in the world, there are RJR alumni. Alumni across the course of a century!”

    Go to the second floor and check out the mural, which is now unveiled for all to see and enjoy. As a school, we wonder what the next 100 years will hold for our school and community!