The afterbirth of the Civil War was the Reconstruction Era, and this period very slowly opened the window on public education for African Americans. The concept of public education for African Americans was not embraced by all – so, leaving the implementation to the local purse holders was almost a certainty that it would be a slow and often forgotten task in some jurisdictions. Seemly to the African American it was comfortably perched on the cold back burner of the local educational board – not so in the African American communities in Westmoreland County. The Literacy Fund of 1810 was to only make public education available for some,—just in case this legislation was not clear—the Revised Code of 1819 made it plain—mandating penalties for anyone found teaching African Americans or Indians to read.
The African American community had worked around this legislation and begun establishing private schools and watched as the error of its ways was recognized by Congress, and the Constitution finally addressed and mandated educational opportunities to be provided for the African American – Not entirely holding their breath, the African Americans took the reins and begun to establish and implement “their” plans for educating their youth – since the 1870s private schools totally funded by the African American community were already in existence, now church and field schools; later community schools stilled funded by the community and finally a little funding from the Literacy Fund—these schools always separate, unequal and poorly equipped with books. But parents would not settle for anything less than an education for their children.
Fifty years later, in the 1920s hope was alive and well, more than 30 schools for the African American youth dotted the county landscape—African American teachers were being hired to teach the African American youth. Groundbreaking!!! The thirst for education in the African American community would not be quenched with merely an elementary schooling – the educational bug needed a more fertile ground, it needed secondary education.
Just as the Reconstruction introduced a transformation for the country– so too did education for the African American community. Some 60 years after Reconstruction in 1937, Westmoreland Co Virginia found itself opening the doors to its first public high school for all the African American young– within the center boundaries of the County –but outside of the town limits–close but not too close.
Submitted by Marian Veney Ashton