We were inspired to learn about a young man who is buried at City Cemetery because of his grave stone’s sad state of disrepair, and because of the poignant inscription on the stone. As best as we can tell it says “sacred to the memory of Whitson Safley who was born in Stanly County April 11, 1824 and became deaf and dumb May the 13th 1827. He entered the Asylum at Raleigh May 15th 1850 and died 10th of July 1852, aged 28 years, 2 months, 27 days.”
The Stanly County census from 1850, the same year Whitson entered school in Raleigh, shows 26 year old Whitson living with his parents David Safley, 66, wife Rebecca 64, sisters Parthena 25, and Margaret 24, and brothers Alexander 13, and Jesse, 30, a laborer.
We discovered that the word “asylum” once was used to describe what is known now as the Governor Morehead School. In 1844 Governor John Motley Morehead encouraged the Legislature to appropriate monies for a school for needy children with disabilities to be educated and learn a vocation. North Carolina’s public school for the education of the “deaf, dumb and blind” – one of the first in the nation – opened in Raleigh in 1845. The school admitted 23 deaf students between the ages of 8 and 32, who attended classes in reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, domestic and industrial arts, and the Bible. Blind students began to attend the school in 1851.
In 1867 the Legislature established the first school in the United States for deaf, mute, and blind African-American students, in Raleigh. In 1869 the separate school opened with 21 deaf and 7 blind students.
Twenty-eight year old Whitson was one of the earliest students to attend the North Carolina Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. Sadly, his life was cut short just two years after he came to Raleigh. Whitson’s total loss of hearing and speech at such a tender age was sudden, and so profound that his family inscribed that date on his grave stone – leaving behind another touching and permanent memorial to love and loss.
Whitson Safley’s headstone will be restored at this year’s workshop on May 2, 2015.