Story and photos by Nikki Clifton, Contributing Writer
On Feb. 25, approximately 70 people gathered at theA.T.JohnsonMuseumto learn, refresh and celebrate the educational history ofWestmorelandCounty. The symposium, “Telling One Story” was joint hosted by the Stratford Hall Museum and the Westmoreland County Museum, was a historical account of the development of the county’s educational system that initially started as meetings in open fields.
“This is a great opportunity for the whole community to share in the memories and reflect on the educational process that would become so instrumental in the community’s lives at-large,” said Jon Bachman, who is the Public Event Coordinator for the Stratford Hall Plantation.
The presentation was officiated by Joyce Jenkins Clayton, who is a retired teacher and administrator of the Westmoreland County Schools, and with her clicker in hand, A. T. Johnson Museum Director Marian Veney Ashton shared a slideshow of black and white photographs of the one-room schools, their founders and some of the then educators from 1800 through 1861 pre Civil War history.
“This type of event is important because this history isWestmorelandCounty’s history, which is both African-American and also Caucasian,” said Ashton. “Since February is Black History month, we thought that this would be a good time to introduce the two-part series.Virginiawas not aggressive in terms of educational inclusion at first, but little by little, education was seen by slaves as a beacon of hope for building a better future.”
Yosif Stalin Roane, a two-room school descendant shared almost 50 years of personal insight and first hand accounts of shop classes for boys, home economics for girls, pot bellied stoves that kept the classrooms warm and restrooms that were in the exterior of the building. Roane joked that while he was conceived inCremlin,Virginia, he was born in Cremlin inRussia. “I went from Cremlin to Cremlin and then returned here, toWestmorelandCounty, to teach and help our extended family grow further.”
Westmoreland County boasts of the 1870 founding of the Kremlin School which was the first private school for Negroes, and in 1938 the county’s first law club was established when a donation of law books were made to the school. Various photographs and artifacts graced the walls of the building as both young and old discovered and re-discovered the rich legacy left by forerunners.
Alice French, educational director of theWestmorelandMuseum, said, “We are here to embrace the entire umbrella of this history. We wanted to figure out a way to get everyone together since all three of the museum’s history overlaps. Each museum is a shrine to particular moments of that history, but we all have the same interests. We are here today because the educational history ofWestmorelandCountyis very significant and it’s something to be proud of. History is all about telling stories and this is part of all our stories.”
The afternoon’s event included a question and answer panel discussion with guests Mrs. E.F. Tompkins, who taught atColonialBeach’s two-room school in 1948 and 1949, and Mr. A. Hooks, current history teacher atWashingtonandLeeHigh School.