A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights School, Williamsburg, Virginia

Linda H. Rowe


Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 0373
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library

Williamsburg, Virginia



Linda H. Rowe

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series - 0373
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Williamsburg, VA 23187

March 1997


PART I: Historical Background
From the Colonial Period through the Civil War3
Mandated Public Education Includes Black Virginians8
Public Education in the South Benefits from Northern Philanthropy9
Public Schools come to Williamsburg11
African-American Students and Teachers12
Black Schools in Williamsburg, 1870-192414
The Black Community Supports Educational Opportunity16
James City County Training School, 1924-194019
PART II: Bruton Heights School, 1938-1968
Make Do or Start Over?23
Development and Funding of Bruton Heights School29
The New School Plant Takes Shape34
Bruton Heights School Ready for Occupancy36
Faculty and Staff37
Bruton Heights School: African-American Community Center40
Bruton Heights School During World War II45


Appendix 1:"Proposed Educational Program for the Occupational and Social Needs of Negroes in the Williamsburg Area." [Report to the General Education Board]. May 12, 1938.
Appendix 2:Program for Dedication of Bruton Heights School, May 25, 1941, Williamsburg, Virginia. Printed by the Virginia Gazette Press, Williamsburg, Virginia.
Appendix 3:Actual Needs and Practicable Solutions: Bruton Heights Community School. Charlottesville, Va.: Extension Division Publications, New Dominion Series 41 (November 1, 1943).


In more than a quarter century as an all-black institution, Bruton Heights School educated a generation of African-American children. Its accomplishments were then and remain today a source of pride in the local African-American community and among its former students, faculty, and staff. Their memories tell of outstanding teachers and supportive parents, who emphasized academic achievement and strong personal values; of enthusiastic students and sports heroes; traditional proms and homecoming parades; and a rich community outreach that included classes for adults, a clinic, a movie theater, and a USO for black soldiers and sailors during World War II. The ever-present backdrop for these stories was the struggle to achieve equal educational opportunity for black children in the Williamsburg area. Poignant recollections also carry a keen sense of loss for the old Bruton Heights School, perhaps best symbolized in the irreverent dispersal of once proudly displayed trophies and awards as officials readied local schools for desegregation in the late 1960s.

Planning and development of Bruton Heights School, and the subsequent history of that institution, are the primary focus of this study. When the city council and school board of the City of Williamsburg made the decision in the late 1930s to build a new public school for local area African-American children, black education for the first time took center stage at the Williamsburg school board. To provide historical context for this significant move forward, the report includes information about public education for both black and white children in Williamsburg beginning with the first meeting of the school board in 1870. A review of the approach to education in Virginia as far back as the eighteenth century broadened that perspective even further.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, African-Americans in Williamsburg knew first hand the bias in favor of white students under the "separate but equal" policy that prevailed in local schools until the late 1960s. As it did elsewhere, the white perspective in Williamsburg on educating blacks at public expense usually took the form of curricula that emphasized vocational training and meager allocations for buildings and supplies.


To ease inequities, members of the black community around Williamsburg often dug deep in their own pockets to buy educational materials not funded by the school board. In the fullness of time, black citizens became less reluctant to voice their opinions to the board about matters affecting their children's education. When it became clear that Rockefeller investment in Williamsburg's colonial past would breathe new life into the local economy, they made a claim to improved educational opportunity that presaged the development of Bruton Heights School. Ultimately, African-American parents and teachers anticipated with hope and fear, assurance and dread the key to educational parity for children of both races in Williamsburg: desegregation of local public schools, a process not completed until the 1968-69 school year.

Minutes kept by the Williamsburg school board provide a continuous record of public education in Williamsburg from 1870 to the present. School board members discussed African-American students and their schools in Williamsburg right from the start. After an expanded school program for the African-American community came up for discussion in 1938, Bruton Heights School nearly always figured in one or more agenda items at every school board meeting.

Meeting minutes were a mixed blessing. For instance, issues resolved outside official meetings often were not explained fully in the minutes. Likewise, problems introduced at board meetings sometimes appear to have been resolved or dropped without further notation in board records. Some of the blanks could be filled in from Williamsburg City Council minutes, local and regional newspapers (some of them African-American newspapers), the correspondence files at Colonial Williamsburg, and other sources.

What transformed classrooms, blackboards, desks, books, students, and teachers into the vital Bruton Heights School? The Bruton Heights spirit is not to be found in the prosaic record of school board and city council meetings. Not even newspaper articles and correspondence files often captured the real essence of the school. But the written record is not the only source of information about Bruton Heights. Interviews with former faculty, staff, students, and members of the Williamsburg community at large will breathe life into the bare facts assembled here. One of the purposes of this report was to supply accurate background material to be used in taking oral histories.

The report also provided historical information for planners of a permanent exhibition covering the rich and poignant history of Bruton Heights School. The exhibition is located in the lobby of the restored and refurbished school building at the Bruton Heights School Education Center.

This report has two large sections. Part one presents a brief history of education in Virginia and Williamsburg with an emphasis on educational prospects for black people from the colonial period into the post-Civil War era. The history of educational opportunity and development of publicly funded schools for white people is necessarily part of that story. Part two traces the development and funding of Bruton Heights School and focuses on its operations an all-black institution for both elementary and high school students.



From the Colonial Period through the Civil War

Virginia adopted a new constitution in 1869. It included the first outright requirement that the Commonwealth provide free, public education for the youth of the state. The notion of education at public expense mandated by this new constitution was virtually unknown in the South from colonial times through the Civil War. The philosophy of education had been, and remained, that parents provided schooling at a level they could afford and thought appropriate to their children's future prospects. Within this frame of reference, public officials provided very limited educational assistance only to free indigent children.1 Rarely had education for black children been part of the equation.

In eighteenth-century Virginia, education was respected, and literacy a distinct advantage, but the largely oral culture of colonial times encompassed everyone from classically educated gentleman to resourceful slave. Slave children learned from their parents and other adults techniques for survival in a in a society that afforded them little protection. They acquired work skills as they labored alongside adult slaves under the direction of their masters. If this was the experience for most blacks in the colonial period, there is, nevertheless, evidence in Williamsburg and vicinity that a few black children received a "book" education similar to that of some of their white counterparts.

The colonial Virginia legal code did not forbid slaves and free blacks to learn to read and write. Some slave owners even found it expedient to teach a trusted slave to read and do simple arithmetic, but most slave holders balked at the idea of either educating their slaves or introducing them to Christianity. They feared the pride and rebelliousness learning could engender, and literacy often made the difference between a successful or failed escape attempt.2

There is the occasional reference in a will or estate account of resources set aside to pay for the education of an individual slave child. For instance, in October 1754, Elizabeth Wyatt billed William Dawson's estate, 1.6 for schooling his slave Jinny for one year.3 After the Revolution, George Wythe taught Jamie, a young slave boy in 4 his Williamsburg household, to read and write.4 Moreover, among apprentices bound to artisans to learn a trade there were a few slaves and free blacks. Like their white counterparts, by law they would have been eligible to be taught not only the skills of a trade but to read and write as well.5

Religious training brought a measure of education to colonial Virginians including some African-Americans. James Blair, rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg from 1710 to 1743, advocated Christian education for "Negro & Indian Children." He reported to the Bishop of London in the late 1720s that he encouraged "the baptizing & catechizing of such of them as understand English, and exhort their Masters to bring them to Church and baptize infant slaves."6 Consequently Blair and his successors baptized nearly a thousand slaves between 1739 and the Revolution.7 William LeNeve, minister of nearby James City Parish reported at about the same time that among slaves born in Virginia, he had "examined and improved" several of them. LeNeve used "Directions for the Catechists &c.," printed by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to "plant that seed among them which will produce a blessed harvest." A few miles from Williamsburg, Francis Fontaine rector of Yorkhampton Parish (covering Yorktown and parts of York County) responded to the bishop that he exhorted masters to send their slaves to him to be instructed and that "in order to their conversion I have set apart every Saturday in the Afternoon and catechize them at my Glebe House." Another minister reported that he baptized slaves in his parish when they could "say the Church Catechism."8

In 1743 Commissary William Dawson wrote to England for a copy of school rules "which, with some little Alteration, will suit a Negro School in our Metropolis, when we 5 shall have the Pleasure of seeing One established."9 Whether Dawson envisioned occasional catechism classes for slaves or more general instruction is unclear, but he later wrote that he visited three of these schools in Bruton Parish.10

More significant for its longevity, continuity, and scope was the school for slave children in Williamsburg funded by the Associates of Dr. Bray, a philanthropic organization allied with the Anglican Church in England. Open from 1760 to 1774, the school ran at capacity (25-30 students at a time) for the whole period. The schoolmistress was Mrs. Anne Wager, formerly tutor to the Burwell children at Carter's Grove and later to a group of white children in Williamsburg. She used the Bible and Anglican religious materials to teach her pupils to spell, read, and speak properly as she communicated Christian doctrine according to Anglican tenets.11 The list of materials sent from England included instructional materials designed for Indians, simple English primers, and catechisms.12

Reports from the eighteenth century tell of slaves imported as adults from Africa understanding too little English to benefit much from religious instruction, but as early as 1724 Hugh Jones noted that "the Native Negroes" were among "the only People that speak true English."13 The large number of native-born slaves in the Williamsburg area were probably no exception.14 Peres, a slave who had lived for many years around Williamsburg, ran away in 1761 after he had become George Washington's property. 6 The newspaper stated that Peres spoke good English, with little evidence of his "Country Dialect."15

At the Bray School, Mrs. Wager undoubtedly amplified the language skills noted earlier by Jones. A broad cross-section of slave owners in Williamsburg and a few free black parents in the vicinity sent their children to the school between 1760 and 1774. While it is likely that Mrs. Wager reinforced her pupils' subservient status with scriptural passages such as "Servants obey your masters," and slave owners all too often found work at home for the children before they could get the intended three years' instruction, the fact remains that Mrs. Wager taught a significant number of black children in Bruton Parish and Williamsburg to "mind their Stops & … to pronounce & read distinctly."16

Advertisements in the Virginia Gazette in the 1760s and '70s give evidence that slaves in some numbers around Williamsburg could read and write, skills still to be found among local slaves early in the next century.17 When a nineteenth-century Baptist historian reported in 1810 that a church book was kept by early members of the black Baptist church founded in Williamsburg in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, it was further confirmation of a subculture of literate slaves in the area.18 What toleration there had been for slave literacy evaporated in the early nineteenth-century, however, as fear of slave rebellion spawned laws against educating slaves.

Education for African-Americans was the exception not the rule from colonial times through the Civil War, but neither was a regularized system of compulsory education the norm for white children. White children in colonial Virginia usually learned the rudiments of reading at home from the Bible or simple primers, often at their mother's (or other female relative's) knee. Continuing the traditional link between education and religion, Anglican ministers in the colony, who wanted to supplement their modest clerical salaries, frequently set up small schools where older children continued their education for a fee.19 Well-to-do plantation owners or town dwellers hired private tutors to prepare their sons for a classical education or sent their boys to 7 the Grammar School at the College of William and Mary. Tutors coached daughters of the gentry in writing and reading for recreational purposes and sometimes taught them simple arithmetic. The College in Virginia or a university abroad awaited sons of the well-to-do.

Less well-off parents arranged apprenticeships for their sons and (less frequently) daughters or paid a teacher to give their children from one to three years' instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic. A few promising young men from families of modest means even received scholarships to attend William and Mary. For white children of destitute parents, the story was much different. The fortunate few attended free schools for a few years, such as the one operated in the middle of the eighteenth century by the Bruton Parish vestry made possible by a bequest in Mary Whaley's will.20 In spite of colonial laws designed to ensure that poor children got basic instruction (including religious), free parents of small means, black and white, often could do no more than pass on practical skills by word of mouth, while their sons and daughters learned by doing.

Between the Revolution and the Civil War the idea of universal public education was slow to take hold. Upper class Virginians looked upon it as intended for paupers, and the poorer classes suffered the stigma associated with accepting aid from the state.21 Conservatives took a dim view of a system for which they would be taxed but had no intention of using themselves. Moreover they were suspicious of the effects of educating the poor claiming it would lead to "disappointed hopes" among the lower classes and thus to unrest and societal instability.22

Having thwarted efforts to create a system of public education in Virginia from Thomas Jefferson's plan in 1779 onwards, the Virginia legislature nevertheless saw fit to establish a Literary Fund in 1810. The act that created the fund ordered that certain small revenues accruing to the state be set aside for the "encouragement of learning." In 1816 the federal government repaid a loan to Virginia (dating from the War of 1812) in the amount of $1,210,550. Virginia legislators added this sum to the accumulating assets in the Literary Fund. Income from the Fund (and poll tax receipts after 1851) was distributed to counties and towns to provide schooling for indigent white children. A board of local officials appointed by the county courts identified appropriate recipients and employed a teacher at the rate of about four cents per pupil for every day they 8 were in actual attendance. In 1829 the General Assembly permitted about 10 percent of the allotments from the Literary Fund to be used to build schoolhouses.23

Mandated Public Education Includes Black Virginians

After peace was declared in 1865, rebuilding the war-ravaged South brought with it the need for better education for southerners of both races. But if the more democratic idea of state aid for education in partnership with localities gained appreciable momentum before the War (expenditures from the Literary Fund increased from $44,000 in 1836 to $214,000 in 1860), the idea still took a back seat after the war to internal improvements such as railroads, turnpikes, and canals. Those were expensive projects, and money was in short supply. To Virginia's public debt, initially acquired in 1838 when Virginia legislators had approved the sale of state bonds to obtain money for internal improvements, had now been added the enormous expense of the war effort itself. In the post-war era, the state's economy and infrastructure were in shambles. Few Virginians were in a strong position economically, and outright poverty was the reality for many whites and most blacks, making for a weak tax base. Such revenues as could be collected were stretched thin. Too thin to support public schools in the opinion of conservative political interests in Virginia. Nor were taxpayers (primarily landowners) prepared to accommodate tax hikes. Conservatives thought limited revenues ought be applied to retiring Virginia's lingering state debt and to attracting new industry. 24 An education mandate that would extend schooling at public expense to white children and children of liberated slaves (former slaves were 30 percent of the total population) was just too costly.

To be sure, many Virginians also dreaded the "leveling" among all ranks in society they thought public education would bring. Moreover, ranking members of Virginia society, suspicious before about the effects of educating poor whites, now viewed educating blacks as having but one purpose forced upon the South by northern interests: to "break down all ranks and put the negro upon a plane of equality with the whites." And the system of doling out money from the Literary Fund had prolonged an 9 unfortunate association in many Virginians' minds between indigence and publicly funded education. 25

In spite of the strength of these opinions, the public school system in Virginia was destined to gain rapid popularity. In 1869 the Virginia constitution makers provided for "a uniform system of public free schools and for its gradual, equal, and full introduction into all the counties of the state by the year 1876." The practical necessity of public education for all Virginians, and for African-Americans in particular, now coupled with an education provision in the new constitution, brought a flurry of activity in the 1869-1871 period supported by the likes of Gov. Gilbert Walker, Gen. Robert E. Lee (then a college president), and others. Drafting school regulations and selecting local school officials fell to the Rev. Dr. William Henry Ruffner, elected state superintendent of schools in 1870.26 In December of that same year, the school board of the City of Williamsburg held its first meeting.

In many localities, including Williamsburg, public education was more enthusiastically embraced in the African-American community than among the white population. Publicly funded schools and a system to run them came at a time in Virginia and the nation when African-Americans actively sought the education that would prepare them to participate successfully as free citizens in the American democracy. Booker T. Washington wrote movingly about that time of the freed peoples' desire for education saying that "it was a whole race trying to go to school. Few were too young, and none too old, to make the attempt to learn." These same sentiments were expressed by a James City County resident in 1871 when he wrote that "great excitement prevails among the colored race. Young and old, little and big, seem eager to obtain knowledge." 27

Public Education in the South Benefits from Northern Philanthropy

Before the end of the Civil War, a number of individuals and religious societies in northern states had responded generously to appeals for aid to escaping slaves and refugee freedmen who sought protection and assistance behind Union lines. Initially, their concern was timely supply of food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment, but a number of philanthropists and benefit societies turned their attention to matters beyond 10 immediate relief of physical suffering. Among other things, they strongly suggested that schools and churches be organized for these displaced persons.28

A month before the end of the war, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, commonly called the Freedmen's Bureau. The work of the Bureau was significant for making the care and protection of freed persons part of official structure, but perhaps more significantly, it backed the teachers sent by benevolent societies to establish schools in communities of displaced African-Americans in the South. Wherever these teachers went, they found a strong desire for literacy among recently emancipated African-Americans.29

Among educators who responded to appeals by Union generals was Mrs. Mary Peake, daughter of a slave, who opened the first of these schools at Fortress Monroe in Virginia in 1861. Religious groups and other benefactors in the north, the Freedmen's Bureau, and freed men and women themselves all contributed funds to sustain these schools. Before the educational program under the Freedmen's Bureau reached its five-year mark, benevolent societies aided by the Bureau also had begun to establish a system of colleges and universities for African-Americans. The American Missionary Association established Fisk University, Talladega College, and Atlanta University before turning its attention to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute of Virginia where Gen. S. C. Armstrong created a program in which "Negro teachers and leaders might be properly trained." In 1868 Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) opened with two teachers and fifteen pupils. The school received a charter from the Virginia legislature two years later. Hampton Institute had the support of the Freedmen's Bureau and northern philanthropists, among them the Rockefeller family.30

The philanthropic impulse benefited public education for both races in the post-war era. A number of foundations made moneys available to southern school systems, not to effect integration, but often for the express purpose of improving educational opportunities for African-Americans. Many southern school boards formed in this period (including Williamsburg's) were chronically short of funds, and black school facilities in Williamsburg and elsewhere usually felt the pinch first. The Slater Fund (founded in 1882 by John Slater, a textile mogul from Norwich, Connecticut), the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation (set up according to the terms of this Philadelphia Quaker's will in 1908), the General Education Board (a Rockefeller foundation incorporated in 1903), 11 and the Rosenwald Fund (organized in 1917 by Julius Rosenwald, a New York industrialist) were among the organizations that eventually had an impact on schools in Williamsburg. These men and women were forward-looking and genuine about their desire to give black people in the South the basic skills they needed to survive and participate in American society. They were concerned both for the individuals who stood to benefit from their programs and for the fragile nature of the recently reunited United States that they believed would gain stability largely through an educated citizenry.31

Trustees and agents of these foundations crisscrossed the South by train and automobile gathering data for their developing programs. They sought out southern educators such as Jackson Davis of Virginia, who shared their vision of equal educational opportunities for whites and blacks in the South. They also hoped to engender change in white southern society as well. Donations from these funds usually were contingent upon the receiving agency (usually a local school board) raising like sums of money, matching funds in the modern parlance. A resolution of the trustees of the Slater Fund summed up the philosophy subscribed to by nearly all educational foundations of the period:

RESOLVED, that … in all cases where appropriations are made to schools, colleges, or institutions … it is particularly desirable to make such appropriations dependent upon a like or larger sum being raised for the same specific purpose by the parties interested.

Local white authorities thus had a vested interest in sponsoring new projects and, more importantly, in their continuation. Aid was often granted on a sliding scale, perhaps $500 the first three years, $250 annually for the next two years, and $100 for equipment after the five years. Foundations usually made these appropriations with the understanding that public school boards eventually would assume full financial responsibility for the programs. 32

Public Schools Come to Williamsburg

Williamsburg after the Civil War was not only long since past its colonial glory, it was also suffering as much of the South was from the after effects of the Civil War. It now gave the appearance of just one among many other small southern towns. The 12 town's principal employers were the College of William and Mary and a state mental hospital.

On December 2, 1870, Col. Robert H. Armistead, William H. E. Morecock and P. T. Powell (known then as the Trustees of the Free Schools of the City of Williamsburg) held the first school board meeting for Williamsburg. The first order of business was to ask Powell, clerk of the board, to take a census "of persons between the ages of five and twenty-one in this district." At its second meeting on January 17, 1871, the board ordered the clerk to post notices of the election of teachers "at such places in this City as he may deem best." The board appointed its chairman Robert Armistead a committee of one to draft rules and regulations for the free schools in the city.33 At a time when localities expected funds for teachers' salaries and other expenses to come from state moneys, the Williamsburg city council appropriated to the school board part of the money needed to pay teachers and rent the spaces in which classes were held.34

By 1900 the free schools of Williamsburg served 245 white children and 278 black children. The school board routinely gave short shrift to the black school. While minimal repairs to the school building, lists of teachers, and limited supplies were noted in school board minutes, when it came to special ceremonies for opening and closing the school year, starting a library, providing pictures for the walls and special equipment, books, and a piano, it was the white children that got the lion's share of school revenues.

African-American Students and Teachers

In addition to children of both races who resided in Williamsburg proper, black and white pupils from outside Williamsburg (mostly from the Jamestown District of James City County and the Bruton District of York County) attended schools in Williamsburg as early as the 1880s and probably earlier.

When Virginia localities began putting their publicly funded school systems in place, they faced an immediate need for teachers of both races. At first there were relatively few educated members of the black community to undertake teaching positions or to provide state-wide leadership for black public school teachers. By 1890, however, there were nearly as many black teachers as white in Williamsburg and James City County. One historian has judged it evidence of the great value placed on 13 education in the black community that a majority of black teachers in the Williamsburg area in the late nineteenth century were men.35

Early antipathy among white Virginians toward publicly funded education for every child coupled with a scarcity of normal schools to train and qualify teachers sometimes resulted in shortages of white teachers. School boards relied on a pool of "genteel ladies" in reduced circumstances after the war and disabled veterans who were not unwilling to undertake respectable employment in the public schools.36 Small private schools or private tutoring arrangements probably already occupied a number of these men and women.37

At its third meeting on January 27, 1871, the school board elected its first teacher, James W. Edloe, to teach at the "colored school of this City, no other person having regularly applied." Later, the board elected Mrs. Virginia T. F. Southall and Miss Lucy H. Hansford for the white school. Both had taught privately before they signed on with the public schools in Williamsburg. At that time, there were separate classes for white boys and girls. Southall taught the boys, Hansford the girls. This same practice was followed in the black school as soon as the school board hired more than one teacher for black students. That occurred in December 1874 with the appointment of Miss M. A. Bright.38

Teacher's salaries were not set in advance during the first three years of operation of the Williamsburg public schools,39 but Edloe, Southall, and Hansford were not to be paid more than twenty-five dollars each per month. School board minutes in December 1871 ordered that salary moneys be distributed equally among the three teachers in the Williamsburg schools.40 It was not long, however, before teachers at the black school received smaller salaries than their white counterparts. In 1873 the school board hired Charles S. Dod of Lexington to assume the position of principal teacher of the white school in Williamsburg (Southall resigned in 1872).41 In February 1874, 14 the board paid Dod seventy-five dollars out of a combination of city and state funds. Lucy Hansford, assistant teacher at the white school and James Edloe, principal teacher at the black school received only $37.30 each from city funds.

Serious disparity between the salaries of white and black teachers continued in one form or another into comparatively recent times. By September 1875 the pattern was established: Carter H. Harrison, principal teacher of the white school, had a salary of $500 per session, Lucy Hansford, the assistant teacher, $270. D. H. Bourbon, principal teacher at the black school, took home the same salary as Hansford ($270), and Pauline Hill, assistant teacher at the black school, only $100.42

Black Schools in Williamsburg, 1870-1924

Records of the public schools in Williamsburg suggest that the school board relied on improvised accommodations for public school students of both races for a number of years. Rented school rooms in private houses or other buildings were usually crowded, inadequately lit, poorly ventilated, and the furniture makeshift. The school board achieved a stable environment for a "white male school" in 1873 when it took over from the College of William and Mary the Matty School on the site of the old governor's palace, but difficulties with first one space and then another prompted school authorities to shift both the black school and white girls from pillar to post.

When James Edloe gathered his African-American students together on the first day of public school in Williamsburg, February 1, 1871, they met in an as yet unidentified room or building, the first of a number of spaces rented by the school board for the black school. Evidence suggests that they may have used a rented building converted to school use. In November 1871, the school board ordered "eight hundred feet of inch plank to be used for the colored school," probably to re-sheath the roof of its rented quarters.43 Among accounts paid by the school board in August 1873 was $24.91 "to W. S. Peachy Matty for M. J. Smead for Rent of col[ored] school house." Two subsequent references refer to a room rather than a building or house, perhaps an indication that the school had moved : On May 22, 1874 the board paid $72 to S. 15 Morse [or Moore] for "Rent of room for Col[ore]d School." The following July a school room rented from S. Morse for the black school again shows up in school board minutes. In December 1874 the school board hired an assistant teacher for the black school, after which the boys and girls met separately.44

Local records for the next several years yield few clues to the locations where classes for black children were held, but in 1883 the black school shifted its operations to Mt. Ararat Church on Francis Street. Church trustees charged the board $36 for a year's rent. The board asked Samuel Harris, a prominent African-American businessman in Williamsburg and a member of the school board, to oversee the transfer of school furniture from the old schoolhouse (wherever that was) to the church.45

For many years, the Williamsburg school board did not even consider the prospect of erecting a school building from the ground up. A chronic shortage of funds, uncertainty about which funds school boards could legally spend to build schools, and inexperience in design and construction of schools all contributed to the delay. In 1883 the school board appointed a committee to "Enquire what funds may be Legally used for the Purpose of Building School Houses."46

Perhaps because the white male school was reasonably well situated after 1873 in the old Matty School, the first school constructed at public expense by the local board would be for African-American children. In 1884, the board appointed one of its members to get a drawing and specifications for building a school house for the black school not to exceed $950 and appropriated that amount of money for the project. At about the same time, the board appropriated around $400 for necessary renovation and repair of the white school.47

Samuel Harris kept tabs on construction at the Francis Street site acquired for the black school. The property faced "82 feet on north of Francis Street & running back 16 108 feet between the lots of M. R. Harrell and J. H. Barlow bounded on the north by a public square." Specifications for the school called for a brick foundation and a building measuring 22 feet x 62 feet on the inside with "14 windows 10" x 14" glass 18 lights to the window in the main building," cloak room in each school room (probably two), platform for the teacher in each room, and roof covered with good quality "heart-shingles" painted red. The board authorized Harris, as "inspector of the colored school" to contract for fencing and outhouses for the school not to exceed $60 in value and to arrange for stoves and fuel for the school. It was probably early 1885 before the contractor turned the new building over to the board.48 Part of principal Arthur F. Tate's compensation from the school board included his living quarters in the school building.49

The next year, the board designated the schools School No. 1 (white) and School No. 2 (black). School No. 1 continued in the Matty School until the contract between the school board and the College expired in 1894. The school board then rented the western half (three rooms) of the Armistead house in the Green Hill section of town for white students.50 By 1897 a new building known as the Nicholson School (named for the street on which it faced) housed the white school.

In 1907, the board ordered that building that housed School No. 2 be moved from its Francis Street location to the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt streets. In 1920 the school board rented the "Colored Odd Fellows Hall" in Williamsburg "for school purposes," apparently for temporary additional space for the expanding black student population. At the same meeting, board members authorized an additional teacher for the black school if "we can get an additional room without increased rent."51

The Black Community Supports Educational Opportunity

The United States Supreme Court held in 1896 that as long as public facilities for blacks and whites were on a par, the fact that they were maintained separately for the races did not infringe the civil rights of either group. The ruling (to be overturned by the high court in the next century) provided a workable solution for southern whites, but in practice black and white schools in the South were far from "equal." In Virginia as 17 elsewhere, white people, wary of educating blacks at all, were reluctant to have states and localities bear the expense and thought funding should come from the federal government. Their resistance was based in part on the fact that a large percentage of African-Americans in Virginia and elsewhere in the South did not own land or other taxable property, the principal sources of revenue for public schools.52

From 1870 onwards the school board in Williamsburg had separate school facilities for black and white pupils, but white and black schools in Williamsburg did not share equally the resources available to the school board. Although not addressed outright in board minutes, budget figures demonstrate that black schools in Williamsburg were nearly always funded at fewer per student dollars than white schools.

By the first decade of the twentieth century, there were reasonably substantial school buildings for students of both races in Williamsburg, but the white Nicholson School got preferential treatment. The school board authorized the purchase of maps and charts, water coolers, a piano, library books and an encyclopedia, and pictures for the walls at the white school. Moreover, they enlarged the building and faculty, and as previously noted, paid the white staff better salaries. The board saw to it that the opening of the fall school session at the white school included an "educational rally," and contracts for teachers at the Nicholson School actually contained a clause guaranteeing an end-of-term ceremony.53

Meanwhile, the school board sometimes addressed the need for better equipment and improvements in the physical plant at School No. 2, but the black school was clearly a lower priority. The board authorized the purchase of a globe for School No. 2 in 1907 and moved the school building to a new location at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt streets that same year. They bought window shades (like those at the Nicholson Street School) for the building and a teacher's desk in 1914. But the school board also defeated a move to employ a janitor for the school, and board members were often unwilling for the city to foot the whole bill for improvements.54

In the face of such inequities, black parents and teachers across the South volunteered time and money on their own initiative or raised money for specific projects when school boards asked them to do so.55 "Colored school leagues" formed by 18 parents, teachers, and other members of African-American communities coordinated fund-raising and other activities intended to upgrade educational facilities. Records of public schools in Williamsburg reveal the same initiative locally where the Williamsburg School Improvement League was active.

In 1906, when the school board withdrew janitorial services from the black school in Williamsburg, teachers and students took on the cleaning in addition to their administrative duties, lesson preparations, and studies. Moreover, the school board asked black parents to provide more than half the cost of a sewing machine for the school, half the price of a school library, and half the rental price when additional space was needed in 1914. School board members agreed to have the school interior painted in that year too, but only if the black school bought the paint. The board seemed ready in February 1915 to purchase a "cottage" from the College to house industrial arts classes for School No. 2. When instead the College donated the cottage to the city, the school board purchased a lot adjoining the black school for $300 to accommodate it, but they agreed that the building could be moved to the new location only "provided that the $200 now in the hands of the colored school league, be turned over [to] the Supt of Grounds and Buildings of this board." 56 At another time, black parents bought a vehicle and paid $1.35 per month to transport their children from the Grove area to school in Williamsburg.57 Parents and teachers also may have arranged opening and closing ceremonies to mark school sessions at the black school.

Young people in the African-American community could not have been unaware of the obvious favoritism shown by the board toward Nicholson School nor of the sacrifice of both their parents and teachers to improve their educational prospects. That awareness may have contributed to an incident on the streets of Williamsburg before the turn of the twentieth century. School children of both races evidently used the same path going to and from their respective schools (white school on Palace Green and black school on Francis Street). It was February 1895 when one Eli Brown was suspended from the black school for "unbecoming conduct in the street." Brown had refused to yield the pathway to white students returning home from school. When some of the white boys pushed Brown aside, a scuffle ensued. Questioned by the superintendent about his conduct, Brown stated that "he would die before he would 19 give the path to those boys."58 A local resident recalls that incidents such as this one caused the school board to stagger the opening and closing times at the black and white schools in order to minimize contact among students.59

James City County Training School, 1924-1940

The black school continued to be housed in the 1883 building moved in 1907 from Francis Street to the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt streets. A room or rooms in the Colored Odd Fellows Hall in Williamsburg provided additional classroom space by 1920.60

In early 1919, a letter from the Committee of the Improvement League of the black school to the school board asked the members to authorize a new school building for the black school. The League wrote that "they were ready to rase [sic] their portion of the money needed." After a discussion, the board referred the matter to the superintendent of school and the League to get together and formulate plans about size and costs.61 In March 1919, L. W. Wales, Jr. and Andrew Jones of the Improvement League appeared before the school board as advocates for the new school. On a motion the school board guaranteed a four-room school house provided the League first raised $1000 and placed the same in the hands of the board. Wales and Jones stated that they already had pledges of $767.50 as well as prospective buyers for the old school complex (main building and industrial cottage).62

In July, Wales again appeared before the school board to announce that the League had the $1000 in hand. He also pointed out to the board that the black community preferred a male principal for their school.63 In September of the same year, the board decided to secure a loan of not more than $5000 from the state Literary Fund to help finance the new black school. At the same meeting they noted that they intended to borrow about $15,000 from the Literary Fund and float a bond issue for 20 $30,000 in order to proceed with a new high school for white students to be constructed at the north end of Palace Green.64 Officials of the Literary Fund approved both loans late that same month.65

By 1922 the new black school still had not been built, although three lots on Nicholson Street had been purchased for it (the black school League later contributed $350 toward the purchase price). Andrew Jones and W. H. Hayes (principal of School No. 2) of the "colored school League" came before the school board on June 6 to pledge $2500 in addition to the $1200 already raised. Their reason was that they wanted a six room school plus "a room suitable for a training school" instead of the four room school house that the board had planned. The board "fully appreciated their requests, & promised to give them such a building as their finances would permit."66

The very next month, July 1922, the superintendent of James City County schools asked the Williamsburg school board to consider combining the "agricultural schools" (usually called "training schools") of James City County and Williamsburg to be located in Williamsburg but jointly operated by the city and county school boards.67

Establishment of county training schools usually came in response to several conditions: a need for a larger and better school to supplement elementary education provided in small rural schools, a demand for teachers better prepared for their jobs, a preference for offering agricultural and industrial training, and a willingness on the part of local officials to cooperate in securing support from a philanthropic organization. Assistance from the Slater Fund required that a training school be part of the local public schools, that there be an appropriation of at least $750 dollars for teachers' salaries from public funds (state, county, or district), and that grades extend at least through the eighth with two more years added as soon as possible. The length of school terms was also a concern of philanthropic organizations. The Slater fund required an eight-month school term if aid was to be forthcoming.68


Schools usually did not carry the "training school" name unless they received Slater moneys. Officials of the school boards of both Williamsburg and James City County recognized a financial advantage in deeming School No. 2 on Nicholson Street a training school, as long as it was still in use. They would call the new facility the under development James City County Training School. The state supervisor of Negro education notified Principal Hayes in September 1922 of $500 from the Slater Fund for teachers' salaries "this year" and sent a course of study for "our Virginia training schools" which he hoped Principal Hayes would follow at the "new colored school." By October the state supervisor of Negro education informed the Williamsburg school board that the General Education Board (G.E.B.) had promised $200 to the "James City County Training School" for miscellaneous equipment for the current session (1922-3), clearly indicating that this name was applied to the old school because bids for erecting the new school were not taken until May 1923.69

The new James City County Training School (1924-1940) opened on Nicholson Street in Williamsburg not far from the old School No. 2. In the training school tradition, it was designed to prepare its students to become school teachers themselves, that is it offered professional training for students wishing to meet state teacher qualifications and agricultural courses particularly helpful to students from rural areas.70 The school took students from the first grade through the eleventh.71

Disparities that had existed all along between black and white school facilities in Williamsburg persisted in the 1920s and '30s. For instance, in 1931, the operating expenses for the James City County Training School and the new white Matthew Whaley School stood at about $1500 and $5470 respectively. At the black school there was a principal (salary, $1050), a vocational agricultural teacher ($1200), and eight other teachers to cover eleven grades ($525 to $650). Matthew Whaley on the other hand had a principal, Rawls Byrd, who was also the superintendent of schools ($2300), seven elementary teachers ($900 to $1900), eight high school teachers ($1110 to $2350), and five special teachers for art, physical education, music, industrial arts, and home economics ($900 to $1934). The school board, which nearly always met at Matthew Whaley, continued to give priority to "the school," meaning the white school.72

Further widening the funding gap was the fact that the College of William and Mary was closely involved in educating the white children in Williamsburg from 1873 22 onwards. Not only was the College entirely responsible for running the elementary grades for a number of years, it contributed sizable sums to the operating budgets of the white school.73 Public school teachers at the white school who agreed to supervise student teachers from William and Mary got a salary supplement from state money via the College. By the late 1930s Matthew Whaley's budget reached $38,338 ($22,503 of which came from the College). In that same year, $8115 was expended by the school board on the James City County Training School.74



Make Do or Start Over?

The James City County Training School, an early beneficiary of Rockefeller, Rosewald, Slater, and Jeanes foundations, served the African-American school population in the Williamsburg area for about sixteen years. Williamsburg's first black high school which also included the elementary grades, it was not only bursting at the seams by the late 1930s but in need of extensive repairs.

A local development that had already brought major changes to the Williamsburg community at large was to have profound consequences for public education, particularly black education, in the area. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s decision in 1926 to restore Williamsburg to its eighteenth-century appearance according to the vision of The Rev. W. A. R. Goodwin was well on the way to becoming a reality.75 And it was not long before a Rockefeller representative made contact with the school board in Williamsburg. As early as 1928, Goodwin initiated negotiations between the Williamsburg Holding Corporation76 and the board about acquiring the white high school and elementary school and the land on which they sat, the site of the eighteenth-century Governor's Palace.77


The first recorded contact between the Williamsburg Holding Corporation and the school board regarding the black school came in June 1931. The Restoration offered the school board, without cost to the school, the use of an old frame building diagonally across the street from the James City County Training School. School officials converted it into a shop (industrial arts) building for the 1931-1932 school year. Two years later the Restoration notified the board that the "building used for manual training work at the colored school" had to be vacated at the end of the 1933 school term, because it was to be torn down shortly thereafter. The Restoration donated the lumber to the James City County Training School where it was used for roof repairs.78

These and other negotiations regarding public schools in Williamsburg made for frequent correspondence and personal contact between the superintendent of schools Rawls Byrd and other members of the school board and Vernon Geddy, resident director of the Williamsburg Holding Corporation. On June 23, 1935, Geddy took a seat on the school board.79

While the school board and city council juggled funds in the thirties to do little more than jerry-rig the dilapidated James City County Training School, a movement toward an improved educational plan for their children was once again afoot in the black community. A committee from the School League of the James City County Training School appeared before the school board on July 11, 1935, asking the board to repair the walls of the auditorium, paint the interior of the school, paint the home economics building, hire a music teacher, rearrange the rooms, fix up the basement of the school, paint the outside, and repair the sills of the building where needed.80 At their meeting on July 18, 1935, school board members recommended that a letter be directed to the city council describing the poor condition of the black school building. The letter also pointed out that certain repairs to heating and plumbing systems would be made before school opened in the Fall, whether or not the city had the funds to pay for them.81


City council finally coughed up $700 in September for repairs to the roof and plumbing. Council also suggested that application to the Works Progress Administration might bring in funds for additional improvements at the James City County Training School.82 At about the same time the school board hired a music teacher for black students. In October 1935, they voted a ten dollar supplement to the music teachers' salary out of a small amount of money received in tuition from York County pupils. But budgetary shortfalls continued to delay critical repairs at the James City County Training School. When the school board presented its 1936 budget to the city council in late 1935, board members had agreed that the council "should be made to feel some share in the responsibility" for plastering and painting all woodwork at the school. The city council, however, refused to make a special appropriation of $1000 for the work.83

The subject of constructing a new school to replace the James City County Training School was not addressed head-on in the early 1930s, but at least as early as July 1933 (and again in February 1935) school board members recognized that the proximity of the school to the restored town could mean that the Restoration might decide to buy (and subsequently remove) the old building on Botetourt Street. By February 1936, the school board had begun to take a serious look at constructing a new building for black students. They appear to have supposed that they could undertake this project for about $25,000. At this early stage, school board members thought that the Restoration might agree to pay about $20,000 of this sum for the James City County Training School and grounds.84

The school board was not encouraged by a report from Raymond B. Long, director of the division of school buildings of the Virginia state department of education. His estimate of $45,000 for a new building seemed well beyond the city's and school board's resources, but the board was unwilling to abandon the idea altogether. Board members hoped to persuade James City County to provide some of the funds necessary to erect a new black school, if it planned to continue sending children from the county to school in Williamsburg. Even though some 40 percent of the enrollment 26 at the James City County Training School was made up of county children, the county was lukewarm about a joint project and made no commitments.85

In June 1936 the board asked Vernon Geddy to meet with a James City County official to point out that the county's then-current plan to add three rooms to one of the elementary school buildings in the county for county high school students would not be in the best interests of those pupils. At the same time, Williamsburg school superintendent Rawls Byrd reported that the Restoration had offered $10,000 cash and a new building site in exchange for the James City County Training School building and grounds. To its credit, the school board went on record in 1936 as opposed to continued "piece-meal repairs which they are convinced are neither economical nor efficient" should the city council ultimately decide to repair the old "unsanitary and inadequate" black school building instead of finding a way to finance a new school plant, by July 1936 estimated to cost around $60,000.86

With offer in hand of $10,000 and a piece of land from the Restoration, the idea of a new school building for African-American pupils in and around Williamsburg gained momentum. The city council and the school board began to take steps, halting at first, to secure funding for the project. The board approved an application to the Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) for $27,000 (45 percent of $60,000) at their meeting on July 27.87

But with the 1936-1937 school year bearing down upon them, school board members recommended that contracts be sent "to the Negro teachers of the past school year," since there was not time to do major repairs to the training school building, let alone build a new school before the fall session. In fact, that would be the tack taken for another year or more. The city council and the school board continued to weigh the merits of effecting major repairs to the old James City County Training School and constructing a brand new black school. Moreover, application for outside funding was a slow and tedious process. No word on the fate of the application to the P.W.A. filed by the school board prompted superintendent Byrd and the mayor of Williamsburg, Channing Hall, to send the city attorney to Washington to investigate in January 1937. He returned hopeful that the application would be successful, if they sent the P.W.A. additional information about the site of the new school, guarantees from city council to 27 furnish "their part" of the money, and assurances that the proposed school "is an agricultural high school."88

Other sources of funds were also available. The board approved about this time an application for state aid in erecting and equipping a home economics cottage for the black school ($800 toward a building costing $3000 and half the $700 cost of equipment).89 Byrd had also determined that 60 percent of the value of the proposed building and grounds could be borrowed from the Literary Fund of the State Department of Education. In view of these developments, board members advised that new feelers be put out to James City County to find out what part of the costs of a new black school the county could be expected to shoulder.90

Meanwhile, members of the "Negro school league" had not only pressed the school board to refurbish the James City County Training School, they now kept close tabs on plans for a new building. In the same month (February 1936) that the school board first broached the subject of a new school for black students, a committee from the league went to see Rawls Byrd. They pointedly asked that they be consulted before the board or the city took any steps to dispose of the present building or began construction of a new facility, and they strongly advised that the league be consulted about the location of a new building.91

Neither was the Restoration and its meaning for their community lost on the black citizenry of Williamsburg. Addressing themselves to Williamsburg Holding Corporation in 1937, the James City County Training School League explained their ideas for a comprehensive educational and community center for the African-American community in Williamsburg and nearby rural areas. The League's vision was clear:

We wish to let you know that, as Negro citizens we are interested in the Restoration Movement in the Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg area. We are interested in the movement because (1) colored people were among the earliest settlers in this area, (2) we have helped to build up and to preserve the Nation and stand willing to sacrifice again and again to uphold law, order, and peace, and (3) we desire our sections of these communities, wherever they might be, to harmonize with 28 the Restoration Movement. We are extremely anxious that the members of the city School Board, the County School Board, the Williamsburg Holding Corporation, and others who are responsible shall know that as Negroes we are in accord with the movement and stand ready to cooperate, and we hereby beg the interest of the above mentioned bodies toward us as a race in this monumental area.

The League had a plan in mind for a central school facility that would house students from the first grade through high school. They suggested the school serve as a community center for the black community as well. To quote the letter again:

That Negro schools be consolidated and that the high school be made such type as to care for the boys and girls within a radius of fifteen miles. We need a building of the modern colonial type with twelve classrooms for academic work, two classrooms for agriculture (or a small building outside), two classrooms for home economics, a cafeteria, library, office, auditorium and gymnasium combined, one large room for special meetings and for feeding special groups, adequate playground space, and inside lavatories including provisions for male and female teachers and janitor's supplies.
Deferential in tone though this letter was, it nevertheless claimed the right to improved educational and community facilities: "We believe you appreciate the contributions colored people have made to Virginia's historical progress and prestige."92

Rawls Byrd read a letter from the League, possibly a copy of the one addressed to the Restoration, or one written along similar lines, to board members at their meeting on March 1, 1937.93 A direct answer to these communications do not appear to have been forthcoming from officials at either the Restoration, the city, or the school board. Conspicuous by absence, initiatives from the black community do not figure in later accounts of events leading up to development of Bruton Heights School.94 Still, Kenneth Chorley, president of the Williamsburg Holding Corporation later said that John D. Rockefeller, Jr. knew that the existing black school was badly in need of repair.95 Rockefeller contacts in the local black community were to prove fortuitous.


Development and Funding of Bruton Heights School

On February 10, 1938, almost exactly one year after the James City County Training School League wrote to the Williamsburg Holding Corporation and the Williamsburg school board, the city council asked the city manager to get yet another set of concrete comparative figures on the costs of building a new school for the black students and repairing the old James City County Training School on Nicholson Street. City officials brought Kenneth Chorley, president of the Williamsburg Holding Corporation, into this round of deliberations early. The council ordered Rawls Byrd, superintendent of schools, to get two sets of plans for a proposed school in March 1938; one set was earmarked for Chorley.96 The very next month, school board member Vernon Geddy, representing the Restoration at this meeting, told the school board that the company was very interested in improving "Negro education and living conditions for Negroes in Williamsburg and James City County." Geddy further stated that he believed the Restoration could be of help making plans for the future of education in these black communities by getting a survey made at no cost to the school systems.97 This suggestion apparently came directly from Rockefeller himself. He had recommended that Chorley approach the General Education Board "to see if a study could not be made and a full and complete program for Negroes developed with the new school as a center."98

A joint communiqué from the Williamsburg and James City County school boards on April 27, 1938, requested that "such organizations as they deemed proper to make a survey of existing educational facilities for Negroes [and] render to the two boards findings and recommendations for improving Negro education in these communities."99 Negotiations with the General Education Board were soon underway and put on the fast track. Not only was it a Rockefeller foundation, but associate director Jackson Davis, the Board's "eyes and ears" in the southern states since 1915 from his office in Richmond, had reason to remember Williamsburg.

Davis, a native Virginian and 1903 graduate of the College of William and Mary, had served as principal of the Nicholson School (white School No. 1) in Williamsburg in 30 the 1902-1903 school year.100 By 1905 he had assumed the post of superintendent of Henrico County schools. His duties in that job took him into both black and white public schools. What he saw in the black schools propelled him into a lifelong commitment to meeting the educational needs of the black community. In 1908 he had become Virginia's first state agent for Negro schools.101 Moreover, the public schools in Williamsburg were not unknown to the General Education Board itself. The Board had awarded $200 to the black school for the 1922-1923 school year. In 1925, a year after the James City County Training School opened, disbursements for operation of the school included $300 from the General Education Board.102

With assistance and participation from Davis, a committee made up of school superintendents from Williamsburg, James City County, and York County; various state agencies including the state supervisor of Negro Education and supervisor of School Buildings; several officials from Hampton Institute including the director; the state supervisor of agricultural education, and the state supervisor of home economics education set about gathering data about Williamsburg and its black citizenry. Davis arrived in Williamsburg on Saturday, May 7, 1938, and the survey began in earnest shortly thereafter.103

Davis and the committee prepared a report in just ten days in May 1938. It analyzed economic, educational, occupational, and public health conditions in the black community in Williamsburg. The resulting "Proposed Educational Program for the Occupational and Social Needs of Negroes in the Williamsburg Area" (Appendix I) called for an educational program that not only raised the standards for instruction and faculty qualifications but called for a modern school plant and twelve grades for black students.


The cost of a building required to house students from the first grade to the eleventh and meet the needs outlined in the report now came to $245,000 ($210,000 for the building and $35,000 for equipment), more than four times the amount originally proposed by the school board. It was clear that the city alone could not finance a project of that size. Only 200 students at the new school would be from Williamsburg itself; the other 500 pupils in the expanded school program would come from the two adjoining counties. Nevertheless, the school boards of James City and York counties declared themselves unable to make contributions for capital outlay, all the while agreeing to work with the Williamsburg school board toward the proposed program "as an ideal" as rapidly as possible.104

Ultimately, a combination of borrowed funds and outright grants and gifts provided the money for the proposed school that Jackson Davis called "the best plan of Negro education which has ever been developed in this country up to the present time; and, if the program should be put into effect, it would be the only place in the country to have such a program."105 Potential sources of funds included the Public Works Administration, the Virginia State Literary Fund, the sale of the James City County Training School property, a city bond issue, and the Rockefeller family.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. authorized Chorley to reaffirm to the city council that the Williamsburg Holding Corporation was prepared to buy the James City County Training School buildings and grounds for $10,000 plus land for a new school. After this announcement, mayor Channing Hall of Williamsburg met privately with Chorley in the hope that the Restoration could be persuaded to pay more for the old school building and grounds or could find some other way to assist the city in securing a new building. Chorley had no doubt that the council "had in the back of their minds Mrs. Rockefeller's interest in the Negroes."106

Williamsburg had applied to the P.W.A. for a grant to cover about 45 percent of the $60,000 they had planned to spend; the agency awarded $27,000 to the city in the summer of 1938. After the city adopted the revised plan for the black school, Jackson Davis wrote directly to the P.W.A. asking that the application be increased to a $210,000 project. Byrd read a copy of Davis's letter to the school board on May 30, 1938 together with a telegram from the regional director of the P.W.A. in which he advised local school officials to file a new application with plans and specifications for the proposed building. The school board adopted a resolution authorizing Rawls Byrd 32 to file an amended application to the P.W.A. immediately. If approved, about $95,000 in federal funds would be forthcoming.107

The city council and the school board continued to have grave misgivings about whether or not Williamsburg could afford this expanded school project even with a sizable infusion of federal money. Rawls Byrd wrote to Jackson Davis on July 9, 1938 that in order for the school board and the city council to continue to work for the revised school plan, they needed some assurance that additional funding was in the offing to help the city chip away at $115,000 that a grant from the P.W.A. would not cover.108

Even if $100,000 could be borrowed from the state Literary Fund, the loan had be paid off at 4 percent interest in thirty years. That together with the bond issue the city appeared likely to pass for part of the needed funds added up to a debt load the city was unlikely to be able to sustain. Increased operating costs of the larger school plant were another serious concern. The county boards agreed to pay Williamsburg a sum equal to the per capita expenditures the counties currently spent to run their soon-to-be closed rural schools, but these funds, figured at pre-Bruton Heights School levels, were not likely to make up the nearly $15,000 per year in increased operating expenses Byrd anticipated.109

Byrd looked to Davis for "encouraging information" that the General Education Board would help fund the project since it had underwritten the survey of educational needs in the African-American community in and around Williamsburg and since Davis himself had participated in that process.110 Byrd was not to be disappointed. Davis told Kenneth Chorley that the General Education Board did not appropriate funds for capital expenditures for secondary schools, but he recommended that the G.E.B. make an annual appropriation for perhaps five years to cover increased operating costs. The G.E.B. also decided to provide $35,000 for equipment and furnishings for the new school.111

Meanwhile, Chorley broached the subject of a gift to the city with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Chorley realized that the expanded school program as it now stood 33 was "a much larger one than Mrs. Rockefeller ever had in mind when she expressed an interest in the Negro problem in Williamsburg," but wondered if Rockefeller thought it was "something she might possibly like to consider."112 Although a public announcement was not made for some time, Chorley knew in August 1938 that Mrs. Rockefeller was prepared to contribute $50,000 toward construction of the new black school in Williamsburg.113

Inquiries from Rawls Byrd and others to officials in Washington generally sounded promising, but by September 1938 there was still no word on the fate of Williamsburg's amended application to the Public Works Administration. At that point, Chorley wrote to Harold L. Ickes, secretary of the interior. Before mentioning the P.W.A. application to Ickes, Chorley brought him up to date on "the Negro school project" and confidentially divulged Mrs. Rockefeller's pledge of $50,000. Chorley cannily told Ickes that he while he doubted that the application would have come to Ickes's personal attention, he (Chorley) felt justified in writing to him about it because of Ickes's "interest in the negro and education." Chorley went on the say that "if these educators [in charge of the survey funded by the G.E.B.] are correct that this is the most up to date program for negro education in this country and that it may have a possibility of influencing negro education throughout the South, it becomes much more important than simply another negro school."114

Ickes responded to Chorley's letter in two days. He disclosed that the amended application was under consideration and that Chorley's comments about the project's potential influence on black education in the South "have been noted." Ickes went on to say that Mrs. Rockefeller's offer to aid the city in financing its share of the costs and Chorley's own interest in the school "will not be overlooked."115 Less than a week later, on September 23, the Public Works Administration announced that it had approved a grant of $94,500 to the city of Williamsburg for what was to become Bruton Heights School.116

In December 1938, the Williamsburg school board received a letter from Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in which she officially offered $50,000 toward the proposed black school. Board members proposed that the letter be published in the newspaper. Local 34 newspapers carried the story on December 16.117 Later that month the General Education Board pledged $35,000 (increased to $77,000 in 1939) toward equipment and an operating subsidy.118 True to form, the African-American community promised raise about a thousand dollars toward the cost of landscaping.

The New School Plant Takes Shape

Having secured most of the funding for the new black school, the school board and city council set about locating a suitable site in October and November 1938. At first, land belonging to John D. Rockefeller on York Street between the city limits and Quarterpath Road was considered. A York Street resident submitted a petition to the city council requesting that "The new colored school not be located where designated."119 When it became apparent that a tract large enough to accommodate a shop building and agricultural plots would be needed, the city council took two or three other locations under consideration. A large parcel in an area called Bruton Heights soon emerged as the most promising. There were objections from white residents on Capitol Landing Road whose property would back up to school grounds, and several members of the black community objected to it as well.120

In December 1938, the mayor of Williamsburg presented to the council a petition from a large number of black citizens "asking that the location of the new school be left to the discretion of the City School Board."121 Soon after, Kenneth Chorley wrote to Mrs. Rockefeller that Vernon Geddy had mediated the differences by "attending the meeting of negroes, which was very representative of the negro population at Williamsburg, at which he spoke for an hour and a half" and in interviewing the white residents of Capitol Landing Road. At its next meeting, council unanimously accepted the site on the north side of the railroad track, let contracts, and on December 15, 1938, broke ground.122 Williamsburg Restoration, Inc. bought the old James City County Training School for $10,000 and deeded the thirty-acre site in Bruton Heights to the school board.


The "Proposed Educational Program" incorporated a number of ideas remarkably similar to the broad outline of a school and community center put forward by the James City County Training School League in 1937. The building would be large enough to accommodate an initial enrollment from Williamsburg, the Bruton District of York County, and the Jamestown District of James City County(somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 pupils. The plan called for several county elementary schools in James City County to close and those students to come into Bruton Heights. High school students from the Bruton District of York would also be part of the newly consolidated student body.

Geddy's and school superintendent Rawls Byrd's research on school construction took them to Richmond where they got estimates from a private architectural firm and met with Fred Alexander, director of Negro education in Virginia; Raymond Long, director of the department of architecture in the state board of education; Dr. Van Oot, supervisor of trades and industrial education; and others. They visited an industrial school in Hershey, Pennsylvania, funded by Milton S. Hershey; they went to a black industrial and agricultural school in Powhatan County, Virginia "which had the finest equipment of any school, either colored or white, in Virginia" at the time; and they also visited a Catholic school. These meetings and a conversation with Jackson Davis persuaded Geddy and others that Raymond Long "was by far the best qualified man in the State to prepare these plans" and that the advice of Long and Alexander was sound.123

The school complex was designed with a main building for eighteen classrooms, a library, gym, auditorium, cafeteria, clinic, and music room. Plans also called for an industrial arts building with several shops and classrooms. It would also house the "horticultural and agricultural divisions" which would use the surrounding grounds to teach farming and gardening techniques. A home economics building, or cottage as it came to be known, included a living room, dining room, bedroom, bath, kitchen, laundry, demonstration kitchen, and classrooms where students of both sexes would be taught hygiene, sanitation, meal planning, and how to care for a home.124 The school was also intended to be an educational center for African-Americans within a five-mile radius of Williamsburg. Evening adult education classes and clinics would be held in the building.125


In order to fulfill what the school board termed "a moral obligation to the citizens residing on Capitol Landing Road," the front of the school was reoriented from First Street, a small lane off Capitol Landing Road, to face the Colonial Parkway. As Vernon Geddy explained in a letter to the Department of the Interior requesting a permit for an access road off the Colonial Parkway, it was also "going to be very difficult to explain to the negroes why their school is the only property abutting the parkway between Williamsburg and Yorktown that has no access road."126 The school board intended for school buses to enter school grounds by First Street and pedestrians through an underpass under the railroad, but without Parkway access, "any and all visitors to the school will have to come in by the back door."127 The Park Service resisted issuing a permit for the access road to the school off the Colonial Parkway for many months, but finally relented in early 1940, after Geddy pressed the issue by reminding Park Service officials that the Rockefellers and the General Education Board, the P.W.A., the City of Williamsburg, and the Restoration had gone to considerable lengths to make the "negro school project" a reality.128 The permit was renewed annually until the formal entrance from the Parkway onto school grounds was closed in 1957. Meanwhile, students and staff came and went from a more convenient entrance on the First Street side, where there was a driveway and an area set aside for a flagpole.129

Bruton Heights School Ready for Occupancy

The Virginia Gazette announced on May 31, 1940 that the new school was ready for occupancy and that it had been "inspected on Sunday [May 26] by negro citizens of the community" and others.130 Just two weeks before, the school did not yet have a name. Mrs. Rockefeller suggested that the school be named for a "distinguished negro" of the time, but Virginia law did not allow public buildings to be named for living persons. Officials at Colonial Williamsburg proposed several names to pass on to the school board but discarded them all: Colonial Tidewater Vocational School, Middle Plantation School, Booker T. Washington (used too often), Dr. Moton (living); Abby Aldrich Vocational School (living), Bruton Heights Vocational School of Williamsburg, 37 and Tidewater Vocational School.131 In June 1940, board members approved the name "Bruton Heights School."132

A rally was planned to mark the opening of Bruton Heights School. The first pupils entered classes there in September 1940. Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller toured Bruton Heights School with the principal, H. D. Carpenter; supervisor, Wilhelmina Hamlin; and superintendent of Williamsburg schools, Rawls Byrd, on Saturday, December 7, 1940, a few months after it opened.133 Formal dedication of the school took place on May 25, 1941. Three hundred persons, including a group of white citizens, heard dedication addresses by Vernon Geddy, Dr. Malcolm S. McLean, president of Hampton Institute (now Hampton University), and others (Appendix II). The first graduation followed on June 9.134

Faculty and Staff

As early as April 1939, the school board began a search for a person to fill the position of principal of the new black school. In June 1939, the board approved H. D. Carpenter for the position on the recommendation of Dr. Fred Alexander and another official of the Virginia department of education. In the year before Carpenter's appointment became effective on July 1, 1940, the General Education Board made funds available enabling him to attend a six-week summer workshop, to spend a month in Williamsburg familiarizing himself with the community and school plan, take a semester's graduate work, and spend "The rest of the year studying the local program and visiting places that would help in planning and organizing the work here [in Williamsburg]."135

By and large, the black community appears to have endorsed Carpenter's appointment. At the same time, there was high praise for R. L. Rice, the then principal of James City County Training School, although he had also come in for criticism from some parents and other black citizens. Described as a Christian leader "who is greatly qualified to guide our youth's interests," Rice had given years of hard work to "build a 38 fortress of interest that can not easily be torn down." It seems the school board promised Rice a position at the new school if he wanted it, and board members were encouraged by a local organization to give the teaching force "of this school area … at least one year's trial to make necessary adjustments for the new set up" because their hard work and conscientiousnes prepared the way for the new school.136 Rice's name was not on the faculty roster when Bruton Heights School opened in 1941. Teachers carried over from James City County Training School to Bruton included Clara Baker, Rosalie Jones, Clara Jackson, Anne Jones, Olive Scott, and Margaret Colden.137

Teachers appointed for Bruton Heights attended an "institute" funded by the General Education Board during the summer before the school opened for classes in September. The conference lasted about a month. Fred Alexander, Mrs. Helen Hopper, and A. G. Richardson all of the Virginia department of education helped the local superintendent of schools, Rawls Byrd, conduct the institute. Dr. L. Thomas Hopkins of Teachers College at Columbia University spent a week working with the teaching staff. As reported in the Virginia Gazette, the workshop acquainted teachers with the school plant, introduced curriculum requirements, planned the official school opening, made classroom assignments, and outlined the school program.138

Hester Hopkins, widow of Dr. Hopkins, recently recalled that "the drive to become and to achieve exhibited at the time when Dr. Alexander and Tom [Hopkins] gave guidance would have encouraged anyone to give." Alexander had taken his degree at Columbia under Hopkins as had his assistant Archie Richardson. These were "moving days and exciting for Virginia's educational system."139

Teacher institutes funded by the General Education Board continued to be held in the summers for several years. The educational qualifications of Bruton Heights faculty members were good and continued to improve over the years. Alumni of Hampton Institute, Virginia State College, Teacher's College at Columbia University, Howard University, and other colleges filled the ranks. From time to time, teachers already on staff took leave to further their education or get additional degrees.



Bruton Heights School opened in September 1940 and was a model school of its type providing academic subjects as well as agricultural, industrial, and domestic skills training. Not everyone in the black community around Williamsburg approved of the curriculum at Bruton Heights. Moreover, white citizens had misgivings as well. Local opinion among African-Americans reflected debates within the wider black educational community about what black children should be taught. Since the late nineteenth century, the disjunction between the educational philosophies of such black educators as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, for example, had affected local attitudes. Many adults insisted that their children receive academic training equivalent to that given white children; others recognized the practicalities of vocational and agricultural training.

There was concern among white people in Williamsburg that the program at Bruton Heights School would mean that blacks would no longer want to do the jobs they had always done in the community. One advantage of the Restoration to African-Americans in the Williamsburg vicinity was that it made more jobs available. Welcome as the work was, the Restoration hired blacks as laborers, housekeepers, laundresses, groundsmen, waiters, bell hops and the like, jobs whites in the South traditionally considered appropriate for African-Americans. The few African-Americans in costume represented colonial slavery as they laundered clothes in the Palace cellar, worked in colonial kitchens, or polished brass and dusted furniture in restored houses. The celebrated hostesses who guided visitors through the historic buildings were white, and black history was not part of the story they told. In spite of limited expectations from the white community, a number of Bruton Heights graduates went on to become educators, accountants, neurosurgeons, and lawyers. Moreover, the school instilled in its students the determination to see their own children educated when the time came.

A few months after the September 1940 opening of Bruton Heights School, the patrons league of Bruton Heights School held its first meeting. All "patrons of the entire school district, the city of Williamsburg, Jamesto[w]n, James City, and Bruton District of York" were called to attend a large patrons meeting on January 28, 1941, at which time the "present school program" would be discussed. Objections to curriculum voiced by a "key committee" of blacks in Williamsburg were successfully countered by a demonstration of the positive effects of Bruton Heights program planned by the students and Wilhelmina Hamlin, supervisor of instruction.140

In 1943 two years after the new school opened, a Virginia Extension Division published a booklet, Actual Needs and Practicable Solutions: Bruton Heights 40 Community School (Appendix III). The booklet reviewed the history and development of Bruton Heights and evaluated the curriculum and recreational activities at the school. It went on to say that after three years of operation, the school was completely fulfilling the ordinary requirements of elementary education and high school education; serving both young people and adults in programs of education, health, recreation, and sociability. The reviewers acknowledged some misunderstanding in the community about the program and its results.

Bruton Heights School: African-American Community Center

The comprehensive nature of the program at Bruton Heights complex made for a fine educational facility and community center. A clinic with a full-time nurse, a library, night classes for adults, and space for meetings and other recreational activities were part of Bruton Heights School from the outset. By early 1941 the general recreational program at the school included one night a week when the whole building was open for adult groups, and the library, shops, and gymnasium were widely used.141 But local and national events in that year vastly increased the complex's role in the social life of the black community.

In September 1940 not long after the first pupils entered classes at the school, Vernon Geddy and Kenneth Chorley of the Restoration discussed the possibility of screening the movie, "The Howards of Virginia," partly filmed in Williamsburg, for the black community in conjunction with the film's run at the Williamsburg Theatre. It was obvious to Geddy that Bruton Heights School was the logical venue. He had more than one motive for this suggestion: It would give the school a "good send-off" and also "relieve us of several problems." Geddy and others had considered showing the picture to the black community at "our theater" (the Williamsburg Theatre), but it was difficult to find a time when a majority of black citizens could get time away from their jobs (Sunday afternoon was one possibility).142 Scheduling "The Howards of Virginia" at Bruton Heights School nearly failed because the school board had not ordered a projector for the school. Rawls Byrd reported that he had the necessary equipment in hand on September 16, and two showings of the movie took place on September 20 and 21 "on a demonstration basis."143

Evening classes and meetings and September screenings of "The Howards of Virginia" notwithstanding, it soon became clear that the full potential of Bruton Heights 41 as a recreational facility had not been exploited. During their December 1940 visit to the school, the Rockefellers stressed their interest in a recreational program at Bruton Heights and "expressed their hope that permanent moving picture equipment would be installed very soon and put into operation."144 Kenneth Chorley wrote to Bela W. Norton of the Restoration asking why, in view of Mrs. Rockefeller's and other's interest in that aspect of the new school, no further movies had been shown at the school. He insisted that Norton (who then sat on the school board in the place vacated by Vernon Geddy) take whatever steps were necessary to have movies shown there regularly. Chorley also suggested that pool tables and checkers be set up at the school, even if had to be in the basement.145

The installation of movie equipment at Bruton Heights was an agenda item at school board meetings for the next several months. Superintendent of schools Rawls Byrd recommended in February 1941 that the board spend about $700 to purchase two 16mm projectors, a screen, and other equipment. He appears to have favored lightweight equipment over heavy commercial grade 35mm projectors because teachers at both Matthew Whaley and Bruton Heights could use the small machines to show educational pictures in their classrooms if the movie project at Bruton Heights were discontinued.

Byrd reported to the school board that any film could be obtained in 16mm format within six months after its release to theaters, but that new films were available only in large format. Board members settled on 16mm equipment agreeing among themselves that the "fact that the films shown were not the newest would not be a handicap to the success of the movies as a recreational project." At this point, the choice of films was left to H. D. Carpenter, principal of Bruton Heights School, who said that he wanted "only high class films so that they would elevate the tastes of the people in the community."146 Admission was $.25 for adults and $.15 for children. About 100 people, half of them children, attended each program during the first seven weeks of movie screenings. Personnel running the movie operation were H. D. Carpenter, principal of Bruton Heights, who booked films and attended to various office details such as reports and correspondence; a black projectionist paid $2.00 per night; and faculty members who served as ushers and cashiers.147


Reaction to the new round of movie screenings at Bruton Heights in February and March 1941 was less than enthusiastic. The 16mm equipment proved inadequate for an auditorium setting. Carpenter and a number of teachers at the school expressed disappointment that the small projectors produced dim images and they made it known that they hoped that the best type of theater equipment could be secured. The school board countered that the "main purpose of the program is not a money-making scheme, but only for wholesome recreation and entertainment" and that the equipment was on par with machines used in black movie theaters in other cities. The implication was that 16mm projectors designed for home or classroom use were good enough for the theater at Bruton Heights School.148

In March and April 1941 the school board came face to face with the fact that the black community had anticipated a full-fledged, up-to-date movie theater in Bruton Heights School. What they got fell far short of expectations. Dissatisfaction among moviegoers and faculty at Bruton Heights must have registered with the school board because at their April meeting, members came to the conclusion that a larger version of the 16mm projector known as the "auditorium model" provided considerably better lighting than the small model. Nor were black citizens satisfied to see films at Bruton Heights that were months, and in some cases years, old instead of the recent releases some patrons had seen elsewhere (probably in Newport News and Richmond). Yet evidence suggests that the school board at this period was not fully committed to operating a first class movie theater at Bruton Heights School. They were not persuaded that the time and money the movie project would take was justified if people in the black community could see movies elsewhere, even if it meant going out of town to do it.149

The school board continued to equivocate regarding improvements to the Bruton Heights movie in the spring of 1941 citing the expense of 35mm theater equipment, an increased fire hazard, and "difficulty" in booking 35mm films even if they had the necessary equipment. Fortunately, expert advice was not far away. The school board was soon in communication with Tom McCaskey who had joined the Restoration as manager of the Williamsburg Theatre in the early 1930s. Meanwhile, Kenneth Chorley, probably at Mrs. Rockefeller's behest, urged Rawls Byrd and the school board to "make the Burton Heights School a recreation center for Negroes, especially through offering the best in motion pictures there."150 In a lengthy memorandum to Kenneth Chorley in April 1941, McCaskey reported that Rawls Byrd appeared to want the Restoration to 43 take over the Bruton Heights Movie operation. McCaskey also felt that H. D. Carpenter, the principal at the school, was anxious to follow his recommendations.151

Neither McCaskey nor the Restoration ever took over the Bruton Heights movie operation, but McCaskey acted as a consultant to the school board and the school's principal. After an initial review of the project, McCaskey minced no words when he reported that 16mm projection was not satisfactory for either a commercial operation or in an auditorium setting with a large screen. He also noted that the speakers were too small, the stage too brightly lit, the auditorium dangerously underlit, projection booth not rigged for a fire emergency, and the portals in the booth not glassed to muffle sound from the projectors. In order to be a success, he recommended that the Bruton Heights movie be equipped and operated as though it "were in direct competition with other theatres." That would require professional 35mm equipment; first-run movies; low ticket prices; and an efficient, well-run operation. McCaskey was willing to use his contacts in the movie industry to book films from M. G. M., Paramount, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox, producers of films that "usually get heavy play in colored theatres."152

A day or two later, Kenneth Chorley wrote to Mrs. Rockefeller expressing his displeasure at the way the theater at Bruton Heights had been handled. He enclosed a copy of McCaskey's suggestions for an overhaul of the project.153

The Bruton Heights movie appears to have been closed in the late spring and summer of 1941 to allow for most of McCaskey's recommendation to be implemented. McCaskey thought the theater should not resume operations until the fall since a local drive-in theater that catered to both races had opened for the summer.154 On September 5, 1941, National Theatre Supply installed professional 35mm projection equipment and new Simplex sound at Bruton Heights School. McCaskey reported to the Restoration that the appropriate lighting, commercial grade projectors, a new screen, and fire proofing were in place. In his preliminary communications with national film distributors, McCaskey pointed out that Williamsburg was anxious for the theater at Bruton Heights to flourish "because we have never had anything satisfactory for that large portion of our population." The new training center offered a good opportunity to make local blacks "movie-conscious" in order to build up a full-time operation.155 He 44 went himself to Washington to complete arrangements "to give Bruton Heights one of the finest initial lineups of pictures in the state." Distributors readily agreed to help develop Bruton Heights into a first-class operation by dispensing with contracts for the first year and by setting low rental fees until the theater was firmly established.156

At a trial run the Bruton Heights faculty and the staff of the Williamsburg Theatre found the upgraded theater in the school auditorium satisfactory. The first showing for the public came on Friday, September 19. The regular schedule called for movies on Friday and Saturday evenings. If demand warranted, additional nights could be added. Admission was $.20 for adults and $.10 for children.157

Movies at the school were advertised widely. Faculty living within a twenty-mile radius distributed flyers and advertising materials. All black taverns and restaurants in the area displayed window cards and announcements appeared on bulletin boards in other establishments patronized by the black community. In the first two months, bookings included "The Sea Wolf," "The Road to Zanzibar," "Meet John Doe," "I Wanted Wings," "Ziegfeld Girl," "Billy the Kid," "A Woman's Face," and "Caught in the Draft."158 Attendance for the first picture showing after the upgrade was not overwhelming (318 saw "The Sea Wolf" and 368 saw "The Road to Zanzibar"), but McCaskey hoped that business would pick up once "the colored community discovers that it's the real thing this time."159 In October Rawls Byrd reported to the school board that the movies at Bruton Heights were proving very successful and that the proceeds had covered expenses so far.160

Mrs. Rockefeller queried McCaskey about the possibility of showing movies made by blacks at the school. McCaskey looked into the matter on a trip to Washington and found that there were a few such films in distribution, but he learned from his contacts in Washington that black people reportedly preferred "good films made by white people to poor ones made by their own race." Nonetheless, McCaskey wrote for a full list of black produced films so that he and Mr. Carpenter could study the situation. A number of the short subjects already in the line up at Bruton Heights 45 featured African-American casts, and McCaskey assured Mrs. Rockefeller that he intended to use all of those that were available.161

The Bruton Heights movie continued to function successfully. Several hundred people attended movies every week and the theater usually took in more money than it needed for operating expenses enabling the school board to assign some of the surplus funds to equipment upkeep and replacement. By 1943 the movie fund had enough money to help pay for additional playground equipment and recreational facilities at the school. McCaskey reported to Mrs. Rockefeller in November 1941 that there were three showings per week by then and that between 350 and 540 people attended each showing. He also told her that two movies with African-American casts, Paul Robeson's "The Tunnel" and "I Am Guilty," were under consideration. In the spring of 1942, attendance dropped off temporarily when the Stockade Theater (a drive-in) opened in Williamsburg. McCaskey reported to B. W. Norton that he felt that the weather and gas rationing would insure continued patronage at the theater at the school.162

Bruton Heights School During World War II

Under normal conditions the 1940-1941 and 1941-1942 school years would have been a regular shakedown period at Bruton Heights School during which the faculty and students familiarized themselves with the new school plant and the curriculum while they and the black community at large learned to take advantage of the school as a community center. Instead, the war years were anything but normal at Bruton Heights School.

The United States officially entered World War II on December 7, 1941, but for several months prior to that Williamsburg had felt repercussions from increased military activity in eastern Virginia in anticipation of war. For instance, some "defense classes" in electricity and other subjects began to be taught at Matthew Whaley and Bruton Heights early in the year.163

After war was declared, the selective service reduced teacher corps at both Bruton Heights and Matthew Whaley periodically, but shop teachers who could "carry on defense classes for adults in a mechanical field" sometimes got deferrals for a period of time. More worrying for the school board was the possibility that York County would not be able to pay its share for Bruton Heights operating budget after it lost 40 46 percent of its tax revenues when the federal government took over a large portion of the Bruton District of the county.164

Williamsburg residents and school authorities coped with a marked rise in delinquency among white high school students, especially girls, at Matthew Whaley in 1943. Teachers discovered unsuitable home conditions were part of the problem. Perhaps parents drawn to defense jobs in the area had no choice but to accept substandard housing and long hours away from home. The local War Board, churches, schools, and welfare agencies worked together to rein in the teenagers. Plans were underway for a recreational program for both boys and girls, black and white, for the summer of 1943.165

When defense programs went into high gear, every available skilled man black or white would be needed. In March 1941 following protests from numerous black organizations that black people were not being employed in the defense industry even when skilled workers were available, the State Defense Council of Virginia, chaired by Dr. Douglas S. Freeman, called upon defense contractors, trade unions, and employers to make democracy a reality in the war effort and not to make it a mockery by racial discrimination. At about the same time Hampton Institute announced that the American Federation of Labor agreed to charter the first Negro local in Virginia of the Carpenters and Joiners' Union.166 Enrollment at Bruton Heights school began to fall off in 1941, when students in the upper grades began to leave school to take jobs in the defense industry. A somewhat lower enrollment at Bruton Heights throughout the war years was attributable to pupils who withdrew in order to work.167

On October 6, 1941 superintendent of schools Rawls Byrd reported to the school board that "there is one battalion of Negroes at Fort Eustis and the question of making available some of the facilities at Bruton Heights to this group of men had been brought to him." Board members suggested that the battalion commander come to Williamsburg to talk over the proposal with Byrd and Carpenter. If this meeting took place, its outcome was not recorded in school board minutes, but large numbers of 47 black soldiers joined local movie patrons at the Bruton Heights movie during the war.168

Meanwhile, both Bruton Heights and Matthew Whaley provided useful venues for the sale of war bonds and stamps, dissemination of air raid information, registration for sugar and gas ration books, and continuing defense classes that drew in not only adults from Williamsburg but also young men from nearby Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps.169 Although school authorities tried hard to keep these activities from disrupting the regular school programs, it was inevitable that regular instruction at both schools suffered. That situation was exacerbated at Bruton Heights in 1942 and 1943 when many families in the Bruton District of York were displaced by Camp Peary, and it was said that "Bruton Heights has been in a state of flux from the beginning of the school year [September 1942]." As a result the school board's ability to implement plans for the school was curtailed.170

It was not until March 1943 that the question of using the Bruton Heights gymnasium for a "Negro USO" came up at a school board meeting.171 Later that month a special committee of local black citizens approached B. W. Norton of the Restoration in his dual capacity as a member of the school board and director of the War Board with a proposal that they develop a recreational plan for black sailors at Camp Peary and black soldiers at Fort Eustis. Kenneth Chorley informed Mrs. Rockefeller of these plans and reported that a dance attended by 100 sailors from the Naval Mine Depot and Camp Peary was held at the school on Wednesday, March 24. The committee was also at work on a written outline of the recreational plan for the school board and the War Board.172 Committee members learned from morale officers at Fort Eustis and Camp Peary that it would not be good to have army and navy servicemen at the same function. Chorley felt sure that these activities were in line with Mrs. Rockefeller's idea that Bruton Heights be a community recreation center for adults.173


By April 1943, the committee together with representatives from the Bruton Heights faculty had worked it out that the school plant would be open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between seven and ten in the evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons from three o'clock until six. Activities included dances, informal parties, games, singing, and dramatics. Music for dances was usually recorded, but musicians among the servicemen often performed during intermissions.174

USO activities at Bruton Heights focused community attention on the recreational possibilities of the school. In July 1943, the school board reported that numerous requests to use the school gymnasium for dances had been received. According to Rawls Byrd, "the groups now applying are of a good character in the community and they have good intentions." Apparently many of these groups were allowed to use the school on a trial basis with good results. By late 1943, black USO activities at Bruton Heights had developed to such an extent that the regional office of the USO had employed a local African-American woman as a social director to oversee the program at the school in conjunction with the local committee of black citizens. One of the classrooms at the school was outfitted with "comfortable furniture, lounging chairs, and reading tables."175

The state USO office and the local director at Bruton Heights informed Rawls Byrd in February 1944 that the organization would reimburse the school board for expenses incurred on account of USO activities at the school. An official agreement between the school board and the USO stated that the spaces at the school designated for USO use were one room for a lounge; the cafeteria for a canteen; school library for a reading room under supervision; gymnasium including toilets and showers for recreation; auditorium for religious, musical, and literary programs; and one office-sized room to be used "jointly" as administrative headquarters. The school board was to be reimbursed at least $100 per month for incidentals, fuel, and electricity, more if unusual expenses or damage to the building and equipment occurred.176

By February 1944, Bruton Heights in some respects had become more recreational community center than school. It was not just providing space for certain USO activities for black servicemen, it had become a full-fledged separate unit of the organization with a full-time director. In April 1944, the committee of black citizens sponsoring the USO at Bruton Heights School wrote to the school board. They reviewed the history of efforts in the community to develop activities for black men in the armed services "which efforts had recently culminated in a regular unit of the USO 49 housed in Bruton Heights School." In September a meeting at Bruton Heights School brought together the citizens management committee of the Bruton Heights USO; a black representative of the USO offices in New York; Mr. Eason, director of the Bruton Heights USO; H. D. Carpenter, principal of Bruton Heights School, a representative from the mayor's office, two ministers, and others. Eason reported that 6500 people had attended USO activities at the school in January and that figure had increased to 10,020 in August. His feeling was that the organizations program for the Williamsburg area had definitely outgrown the school. The local black USO committee had complained to the school board in April that the school was not able to carry out the regular school program because of USO use of the building. They hoped it would be possible to have a separate building for the USO.177


As World War II wound down, USO-related activities continued to occupy staff and space at Bruton Heights School. Plans were afoot to build a separate building on Bruton Heights property for servicemen that would later be turned over to the school board. Ultimately, USO services were moved to Ft. Eustis in Newport News.

Bruton Heights School experienced several changes, as war-related responsibilities faded. Principal H. D. Carpenter was replaced by W. W. Hayes who tried to forge closer ties between the school and Colonial Williamsburg, particularly in terms of the school's role in turning out suitable candidates for positions in restaurants and other facilities.178 By 1952, D. J. Montague was principal. He complained to the school board of his difficulty in finding suitable housing in Williamsburg as did Madeline Gee, a new and outspoken teacher at the school.179 Montague and Gee both wanted to see stricter standards imposed at Bruton Heights to better prepare students make their way in the post-war world.

Faculty and staff at Bruton Heights School continued to be paid at a lower rate than white teachers. Efforts by the faculty at Bruton Heights to achieve equal pay with their white counterparts at Matthew Whaley were made more difficult by the fact that the school board justified higher salaries for Matthew Whaley faculty members because they supervised student teachers from the education department at the College of William and Mary. For instance, in 1955, teachers at Bruton Heights received base 50 scale pay, but teachers at James Blair and Matthew Whaley got base pay plus a supplement of $100 to $350.180

Both Bruton Heights School and Matthew Whaley had nearly one thousand students in the mid-fifties. Both schools needed to be enlarged in order to accommodate that many children. In the meantime, the school board was forced to rent rooms in churches and institute double sessions at both schools to relieve overcrowding. Construction finally began at Bruton Heights, but the addition remained unfinished for several years. In addition to school work, the Bruton Heights student body supported a choir that performed for local civic clubs, a band under the leadership of Clarence Joseph Jones, a graduate in music from Morgan State University, and excelled in competitive sports. In 1956, the college preparatory curriculum at Bruton Heights was strengthened with the addition of a foreign language requirement, business mathematics, and world history "for meeting more fully the recommendations of the State Department of Education."181

On May 17, 1954, the U. S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the "separate but equal" policy that had governed maintenance of black and white schools. The court mandated that desegregation in public schools be accomplished with "all deliberate speed." At its meeting on June 14, 1954, the Williamsburg school board discussed the ruling. Superintendent Rawls Byrd reported that many superintendents in the state thought the ruling could be circumvented somehow. Byrd disagreed. Nevertheless, the school board in Williamsburg went along with other school boards in Virginia: Rather than initiate action on the local level, they opted to wait for direction from the state board of education.182

On September 25, 1957, federal marshals escorted nine African-American children to classes at Center High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, but segregation continued in Williamsburg schools until the 1965-66 school year when the first tentative steps in the process of desegregation were taken locally. It would be several years before the process was completed.

Initially, officials instituted a plan dubbed "freedom of choice" under which two black high school students from Bruton Heights were transferred to the all-white James Blair High School. In a collateral move that had no immediate impact on the racial make-up of schools in Williamsburg, grades 8 through 12 at Bruton Heights resumed classes in January 1966 (after the Christmas break) at the new Berkeley High School. 51 Berkeley was a black high school for another three years. Bruton Heights itself, home to elementary grades 1 through 7 after the older students were transferred to Berkeley, remained exclusively African-American for the same period.

With the aid of their parents, seniors at Berkeley High School in what would have been the 1966 graduating class at Bruton Heights asked the Williamsburg school board to recognize them officially as the last graduates of their beloved old school. Their diplomas and class rings read "Bruton Heights School."183

Federal officials soon declared Williamsburg's "freedom of choice" plan inadequate. System-wide desegregation come to pass in the 1968-69 school year. Black and white high schoolers attended James Blair. In preparation for the reception of a racially mixed student body (grades 5, 6, and 7), Bruton Heights School got long overdue repairs and supplies.184 In 1973, grade ranges in local schools were reorganized again when Lafayette High School opened. Thereafter, Bruton Heights School housed grades 4, 5, and 6.

The Williamsburg school board closed Bruton Heights School in the late 1980s, after which it was marked for demolition to make way for one of several projects proposed for the site. A concerted effort by members of the African-American community ultimately won a reprieve for the venerated institution. Today, the restored and refurbished school has entered a new chapter in its history as an educational institution: It is part of the Bruton Heights School Education Center of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Dedicated in April 1997, the Center brings together the Foundation's research staffs (historical, archaeological, and architectural) and the audio-visual department all housed in the school itself, and unites them in a campus-like setting with the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library and Dewitt Wallace Collections and Conservation Building on the thirty acres where the landmark Bruton Heights School once stood alone.


^1 Charles Chilton Pearson, The Readjuster Movement in Virginia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917), pp. 4-5.
^2 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The (Invisible Institution' in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 103.
^3 Thad W. Tate, The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1965; reprint, 1987, p. 76.
^4 William Mumford to John Coalter, July 22, 1791, John Thompson Brown Papers, College of William and Mary.
^5 For instance, when he turned fourteen in 1779, Matthew Ashby, the mulatto grandson of a white servant woman, apprenticed himself to John Cole, a shoemaker in York County. Cole was not only responsible for teaching Ashby his trade but their agreement recorded in court stated that he was also to "teach or cause him to be taught to read and write." York County Records, Deed Book 6, pp. 26-7. While the law itself made no distinction based on race, some shop masters probably shortchanged their black apprentices with impunity.
^6 Perry, p. 299.
^7 Bruton Parish Register, Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia.
^8 Perry, pp. 164-5, 263, 281.
^9 William Dawson to William Newman, December 22, 1743, Dawson Papers, 1728-1775, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.
^10 Tate, p. 76.
^11 Van Horne, John C., Religious Philanthropy and Colonial Slavery: The American Correspondence of the Associates of Dr. Bray, 1717-1777 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985), pp. 61, 146, 191. One shipment of books included multiple copies of "Child's First Book, English Instructor, Catechism broke into Short Questions, Easy Method of instructing Youth, Preliminary Essays on the Exposition of the Catechism, Indian instructed, Bacons 4 Sermons addressed to the Planters, Bacons 2 Sermons addressed to the Negroes, Christians Guide, Friendly Admonitions to the Drinkers of Spirt. Liq. Church Catechism with tracts of Scripture, Allens Discourses, Brays Lectures, Kettelwell's Practical Believer, Sermons before the Trustees & Associates (by Bruce, Thoresby, King, Ridley)."
^12 Tate, p. 83.
^13 Grace W. Landrum, "The First Colonial Grammar in English," William and Mary Quarterly, 2nd ser., 19 (July, 1939).
^14 Tate, pp. 56-7, 107, 108.
^15 Maryland Gazette, August 20, 1761.
^16 Van Horne, pp. 188, 190, 241-2, 277-8; Tate, p. 75.
^17 Virginia Gazette, May 9, 1745; (Purdie and Dixon), April 16, 1767; February 21, 1771; (Purdie), December 12, 1777.
^18 Robert Semple, A History of t he Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia (Richmond: Pitt & Dickinson, 1894), p. 148.
^19 William S. Perry, ed., Historical Collections Relating to the American Colonial Church (Hartford, Conn.: 1870; AMS reprint, 1969), Vol. 1.
^20 William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 4 (1895-6):13-4; Virginia Gazette (Purdie and Dixon), 5 September 1766 Supplement, p. 3, c. 2.
^21 Cornelius J. Heatwole, A History of Education in Virginia, (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1916), pp. 100-1.
^22 Pearson, pp. 4-5.
^23 Heatwole, pp. 104-6. In spite of these expenditures, the Literary Fund accumulated surplus revenues so quickly that the legislature began to appropriate moneys to colleges and academies such the University of Virginia (including $180,000 toward debts incurred on buildings), Virginia Military Institute, Hampden-Sidney College, Emory and Henry, and the Medical College of Virginia. In 1861 the legislature tapped income from the Fund for the defense of the state. Certain bad investments during the war years temporarily reduced the size of the Literary Fund but by 1910, it had assets of more than $2,000,000 and an average annual accumulation of some $30,000. Ibid., pp. 107-8.
^24 Pearson, pp. 2-3, 56.
^25 Ibid, p. 4-5, 60.
^26 Ibid, p. 60.
^27 Philip D. Morgan, Black Education in Williamsburg-James City County 1619-1984 ([Williamsburg, Va.]: The Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1985), p. 13.
^28 Henry Allen Bullock, History of Negro Education in the South from 1619 to the Present, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 17-20.
^29 Ibid., pp. 22-4.
^30 Ibid., pp. 26-33; see also Robert F. Engs, Freedom's First Generation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979).
^ 31 Raymond B. Fosdick, Adventure in Giving: The Story of The General Education Board (New York: Harper & Row, 1962).
^32 Edward E. Redcay, County Training Schools and Public Secondary Education for Negroes in the South (Washington, D. C.: The John F. Slater Fund, 1935), p. 25, 32-3.
^33 Minutes of Meetings of the Trustees of the Free Schools of the City of Williamsburg, 1870-1907, H. D. Cole Papers, Swem Library Special Collections, College of William and Mary, pp. 1-2. Hereafter cited as School Board Minutes, 1870-1907.
^34 Ibid., pp. 2-4.
^35 Morgan, pp. 15, 61.
^36 Pearson, p. 60.
^37 Rawls Byrd, History of Public Schools in Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.: 1968), p. 2.
^38 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 2-4, 28-30. At their January 27, 1871 meeting the trustees asked Mrs. Southall and Miss Hansford "to receive in their private Schools those pupils entitled under the public school."
^39 Byrd, History, p. 4.
^40 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 2-4, 9.
^41 Positions in the white and black schools had particular connotations. The principal teacher at the white school appears not only to have taught the boys but to have had primary administrative responsibility for the white school. The principal teacher at the black school also taught the boys and had administrative duties. Assistant teachers at both schools taught the girls.
^42 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 22, 28-30, 36-7.
^43 Ibid., p. 8.
^44 Ibid., pp. 23-4, 25, 28-30; Byrd, p. 7.
^45 Although there are references to payments to Dunlop & Morton for rent of school house, to Mrs. M. E. Neal for rent and repairs to her house, to F. S. Norton for "House Rent, " and to R. W. Hansford for rent of a house, records do not reveal which students were meeting where. School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 56-7, 64-5, 75, 86, 90. During this same period the school board sought a remedy for the room described as "utterly unfit" where the girls of the public white school met. Ibid., pp. 28-30.
^46 Ibid., p. 88.
^47 Ibid., pp. 97-105. Remodeling the white school entailed making one room into two or two school rooms into four, so the white female school could be housed there, too. Ibid., pp. 117-9.
^48 Ibid., 97-105, 117-9, 121.
^49 School Board Minutes, City of Williamsburg, Va., December 2, 1907-October 29, 1925, Williamsburg-James City County School Board Office, p. 129. Hereafter cited as School Board Minutes, 1907-1925.
^50 Ibid., pp. 132-2, 210-1.
^51 Ibid., p. 198.
^52 Pearson, pp. 60-61.
^53 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 283, 317, 336-7, 343, 360, 363, 366-9, 380, 385.
^54 Ibid., pp. 307-8, 380; 388-91; School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, pp. 82-3.
^55 Redcay, p. 3. Redcay also credits a growth in interracial cooperation as another positive effect upon black education. For instance, the Commission for Interracial Cooperation whose efforts were "solely devoted to the adjustment of racial groups in economic, political, social, and educational affairs," the Commission had a Virginia chapter in Richmond to which the Rockefellers made contributions.
^56 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 307-8, 377-8, 380, 383, 388-91; School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, pp. 82-3; Byrd, Public Schools, p. 35.
^57 Morgan, p. 16.
^58 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 212-213.
^59 Linda Rowe/Miss Marie Sheppard, telephone interview, April 14, 1993.
^60 School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, p. 198.
^61 School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, p. 163. A new building for the white school was also in the works at this time. It appears that proceeds from the sale of the old white school on Nicholson Street were to be used to partially fund the new black school.
^62 Ibid., pp. 164-5.
^63 Ibid., p. 174.
^64 The site of the eighteenth-century Governor's Palace. Citizens in Williamsburg and the rest of Virginia protested the disregard for an important historical site. The new white Williamsburg High School was finished by May 1921. Behind it stood the old Matty School which housed the elementary grades for white children. Byrd, Public Schools, pp. 36-7, 46-47, 52-5, 60.
^65 School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, pp. 178-180.
^66 Ibid., p. 212, 229.
^67 Ibid., pp. 215-7.
^68 Redcay, pp. 30-1.
^69 School Board Minutes, 1907-1925, pp. 225, 227-231, 244.
^70 Redcay, p. 37.
^72 School Board Minutes, October 26, 1931-June 9, 1952, pp. 10-11, 14.
^71 Marie Sheppard, James City County Training School graduate.
^73 Byrd, Public Schools, pp. 60-63.
^74 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 94-6.
^75 Rutherfoord Goodwin, A Brief & True Report Concerning Williamsburg in Virginia: Being an Account of the Most Important Occurrences in that Place from Its First Beginning to the Present Time (Richmond: Dietz Press, 1972), pp. 93, 114.
^76 Created on February 28, 1928, the Williamsburg Holding Corporation (later renamed Williamsburg Restoration, Inc.) oversaw and managed ongoing acquisition of property and the physical work of reconstruction and restoration. Established on the same day, Colonial Williamsburg Inc. carried forward the educational program associated with the restoration. For purposes of this report the author has adopted "the Restoration," as the companies were locally — and collectively — known, to refer to the whole Rockefeller enterprise in Williamsburg. In 1970 the two companies merged to form the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
^77 School Board Minutes, 1925-1931, p. 21. Rockefeller representatives bought the grounds at the north end of Palace Green on which the Williamsburg High School and the white grammar school were located to make way for the reconstruction of the Governor's Palace. A new white school named "Matthew Whaley" that housed both elementary and high school grades opened on Scotland Street in the fall of 1930. Moneys available for its construction amounted to $400,000 [$150,000 from the school board, realized from the sale of the Williamsburg High School property and rights on Palace Green to Williamsburg Holding Corporation; $50,000 from College of William and Mary from sale of the grammar school and grounds and other acreage; $100,000 from the General Education Board on the condition that the state of Virginia would allocate a like sum (which it did) through the College]. Byrd, Public Schools, pp. 66-67.
^78 Ibid., p. 75; School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 58, 62-3, 66-7.
^79 Ibid., p. 118.
^80 Ibid., p. 124. At a meeting several months earlier, the school board had toyed with the suggestion that they not spend any money on the exterior of the James City County Training School building (located on Nicholson Street) "in the hope that the Restoration might buy the property if its appearance were too unsightly." Ibid., p. 108.
^81 Ibid., pp. 125-9.
^ 82 Rawls Byrd reported at the November meeting that several agencies of the federal government had made money available to schools: The Public Works Administration for repair [and new construction] of school buildings, the Work Progress Administration for teachers salaries, and the N. Y. A. [?] "for help to high school pupils if pupils need money to go to school." Locally, two white and three black students received approval for these funds. Ibid., pp. 130, 138-9.
^83 Ibid., pp. 134-5, 138-9.
^84 Ibid., pp. 62, 108, 150-1.
^85 Ibid., pp. 151-2, 156, 160.
^86 Ibid., pp. 162, 164-5, 172-4.
^87 Ibid., p. 170, 172-4. A New Deal program that put people to work and relieved taxpayers of the costs of expensive public works. Under the plan, the federal government funded construction of new libraries, city halls, county court houses, schools, subways, dams, and public housing.
^88 Ibid., pp. 170, 186-8.
^89 Whether this home economics building was meant to be part of a new complex or added to a refurbished James City County Training School is unclear at this stage.
^90 Ibid., pp. 186-8.
^91 Ibid., pp. 150-1.
^92 James City County Training School League to Williamsburg Holding Corporation, February 9, 1937, Department of Archives and Records, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (C.W.F.).
^93 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, p. 190.
^94 Kenneth Chorley to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., July 25, 1938; Chorley to Harold L. Ickes, September 15, 1938; Vernon M. Geddy to Elbert Cox, February 13, 1940, C.W.F.
^95 Chorley to J. D. R., Jr., July 25, 1938, C.W.F.
^96 Record, City Council, January 1932 to April 4, 1940, City of Williamsburg, Williamsburg Circuit Court Clerk's Office, p. 478, 482. Hereafter cited Williamsburg City Council Minutes, 1932-1940.
^97 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, p. 240.
^98 Chorley to J. D. R., Jr., July 25, 1938, C.W.F.
^99 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, p. 240.
^100 Byrd, p. 117; School Board Minutes 1870-1907, pp. 328-9.
^101 Lance G. E. Jones, The Jeanes Teacher in the United States 1908-1933, (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1937), pp. 13-5; Fosdick, pp. 101-2.
^102 School Board Minutes, 1870-1907, pp. 227-231, 248, 266, 288. The white school in Williamsburg was also a beneficiary of the G.E.B. In 1929 the it granted $100,000 toward construction of Matthew Whaley School. In 1932 the school board gave Rawls Byrd, superintendent of Williamsburg Schools and principal of Matthew Whaley, leave of absence to take advantage of a fellowship granted him by the General Education Board for a year's study. Several years later in 1936, the G.E.B. made a special appropriation to the College of William and Mary to conduct a summer school for all eleven grades at Matthew Whaley during the first six weeks of the college summer session. And these were not the only funds the College of William and Mary was to receive over the years from the G.E.B. Ibid, pp. 158, 220-2; Fosdick, Adventure in Giving, p. 276.
^103 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 242-4.
^ 104 Jackson Davis, "Williamsburg Colored School," May 13, 1938, C.W.F.
^105 Chorley to J. D. R., Jr., July 25, 1938, C.W.F.
^106 Ibid.
^107 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 245-8.
^108 Rawls Byrd to Jackson Davis, July 9, 1938, C.W.F.
^109 Vernon Geddy to Chorley, July 8, 1938, C.W.F; Chorley to J. D. R., Jr., July 25, 1938, C.W.F.
^110 Rawls Byrd to Jackson Davis, July 9, 1938, C.W.F.
^111 Chorley to Mrs. J.D.R., Jr., December 20, 1938, C.W.F.
^112 Chorley to J. D. R., Jr., July 25, 1938 and August 12, 1938, C.W.F.
^113 J. D. R., Jr. to Chorley, August 15, 1938, C.W.F.
^114 Chorley to Harold L. Ickes, September 15, 1938, C.W.F.
^115 Harold Ickes to Chorley, September 7, 1938, C.W.F.
^116 The Daily Press, September 24, 1938.
^117 Daily Press, December 16, 1938.
^118 Chorley to Mrs. J. D. R., Jr., December 20, 1938, C.W.F.; School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 280-2.
^119 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, p. 264; Council Minutes, 1932-1940, p. 515.
^120 School Board Minutes, pp. 270-274.
^121 Council Minutes, pp. 519-20.
^122 Chorley to Mrs. Rockefeller, December 20, 1938.
^123 Vernon Geddy to Chorley, October 27, 1938, C.W.F.
^124 Daily Press, May 22, 1939; Bruton Heights School dedication program, May 25, 1941, C.W.F.
^125 Virginia Gazette, September 1, 1939.
^126 School Board Minutes, pp. 310-12; Geddy to A. E. Demaray, associate director, National Park Service, November 1, 1939.
^127 Jay Downer to Geddy, December 12, 1939.
^128 Geddy to Demaray, November 1, 1939; School Board minutes, pp. 326-8.
^129 School Board minutes, 1952-1957, pp. 329-34.
^130 Virginia Gazette, May 31, 1940, p. 3.
^131 A. E. Kendrew to Vernon Geddy, May 11, 1940, C.W.F.
^132 School Board minutes, pp. 348-357.
^133 B. W. Norton to Miss [ ] Davis, December 16, 1940, C.W.F.
^134 Program, dedication ceremony, Bruton Heights School, May 25, 1941,C.W.F.; program, graduation exercises, Bruton Heights School, June 9, 1941, C.W.F..
^135 School Board minutes, pp. 286-88, 293-301.
^136 The. Rev. Mr. M. C. Holland to Geddy, March 7, 1940, C.W.F.
^137 Program, Bruton Heights School dedication, May 25, 1941.
^138 Virginia Gazette, June 28, 1940, p. 6.
^139 Hester R. Hopkins to Patricia A. Gibbs, August 16, 1989, Department of Historical Research, C.W.F.
^140 Journal and Guide, February 2, 1941; B. W. Norton to Chorley, February 13, 1942, C.W.F.
^141 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. [400-405].
^142 Vernon Geddy to Chorley, September 12, 1940, C.W.F.
^143 Geddy to Chorley, September 16, 1940, C.W.F.
^144 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 390-2.
^145 Chorley to Bela W. Norton, December 18, 1940, C.W.F.
^146 School Board Minutes, February 2, 1993, pp. 394-8.
^147 Tom McCaskey to Chorley, April 16, 1941, C.W.F.
^148 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. [400-405].
^149 Ibid., pp. [406-413].
^150 Ibid., pp. [ 406-413, 414-420]; Chorley to Mrs. J. D. R., Jr., September 24, 1941, C.W.F.
^151 McCaskey to Chorley, April 16, 1941, C.W.F.
^152 Ibid.
^153 Chorley to Mrs. J. D. R., Jr., April 18, 1941.
^154 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. [422-5]; McCaskey to Chorley, April 16, 1941.
^155 McCaskey to Mr. Art Jacobson, National Screen Service, September 9, 1941, C.W.F.
^ 156 McCaskey, "Progress Report, Bruton Heights Theater," September 11, 1941, C.W.F.
^157 Ibid.
^158 Ibid.
^159 McCaskey to Chorley, September 29, 1941, C.W.F.
^160 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. [439-443].
^161 Tom McCaskey to Mrs. J. D. R., Jr., October 13, 1941, C.W.F.
^162 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 475-9, 540-544.
^163 Ibid., pp. 390-392, 453-457.
^164 York County increased taxes sufficiently to continue to pay the same amount they had in recent years for Bruton Heights. Ibid., pp. 530, 532, 544-546.
^165 Ibid., pp. 530-532, 540-544; Williamsburg City Council Minutes, April 11, 1940-December 14, 1950, p. 249.
^166 Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 20, 1941.
^167 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 444-448, 530-532.
^168 Ibid, pp. 439-443, 530-532.
^169 Ibid, 475-479.
^170 [Colonial Williamsburg], Public Relations Weekly Letter, March 3, 1943, C.W.F.
^171 In July 1943, the white USO asked to use the gymnasium at Matthew Whaley one night a week in bad weather during the summer and winter. This it was allowed to do but only on Saturday nights during the winter months since a weekday night would make it difficult to get the room clean for early classes the next day. School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 530-532, 556-560, 560-563.
^172 [Colonial Williamsburg], Public Relations Weekly Letter, March 3, 1943, C.W.F.
^173 Chorley to Mrs. J. D. R., Jr., March 30, 1943, C.W.F.
^174 Ibid.; School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 540-544.
^175 Ibid., pp. 556-560, 560-563; Miss Marie Sheppard directed the USO for about two years.
^176 School Board Minutes, 1931-1952, pp. 588-593.
^177 Ibid., pp. 593-597; Bela W. Norton to the Files, September 23, 1944, C.W.F.
^178 W. W. Hayes to Geddy, August 23, 1947, C.W.F.
^179 School Board Minutes, 1952-1957, pp. 1-2.
^180 Ibid., p. 181-2.
^181 Ibid., pp. 242-3.
^182 Ibid., p. 186.
^183 Interview with Sara Linda (Ashby) Howard, Class of 1966, Bruton Heights School.
^184 Virginia Gazette, August 23, 1968, p. 2A; September 5, 1969, p. 12A.

Appendix I


This report was handed me in Williamsburg May 13, 1938. J.D.

I.Introductory Statement
II.Survey of Occupational Needs of Area
III. Summary of Occupational Needs which Lend Themselves to Educational Instruction
IV. social Situation
V. Projected Plan of Education
VI. Personnel Needs
VII. Building and Equipment
VIII. Annual Cost of Personnel and Maintenance
IX. Budget of Expenditures for Instruction and Maintenance
X.Showing the Number of Schools, Enrollment, and Budgeted Amounts for Operating Schools at the Area for 1938-39
XI. Summary and Recommendations
Survey Personnel

I. Introductory Statement

This study deals with plans for an educational program tor Negroes in the area composed of Williamsburg, the greater portion of James City County, and a small section of York County. The Negro population in this area is approximately 50% of the total population.

School facilities and personnel are planned to take care of all children of elementary and secondary school age in the City of Williamsburg, all children or elementary and secondary school age in that portion of James City County adjacent to Williamsburg, and high school pupils for the remaining portion of James City County, and for elementary and high school pupils in the section of York County adjacent to Williamsburg. (See attached map.)

The estimated enrollment based on the school census in the regional school proposed is 600 to 650 elementary children with 200 to 250 high school pupils. At present there is an enrollment of 590 elementary pupils in this area and 128 high school pupils. Judging from the number of children in the total school population, it is reasonable to expect that a better educational program with transportation provided by the counties, would cause the present high school enrollment to double.

The information contained in this study has been gathered in a period of ten days and consequently may not be complete in some respects. However, the accuracy of such items as school Page 2. population, school enrollment and cost of present schools has been checked carefully.

This study contains information concerning existing occupations of a majority of workers in the area and a number of types of occupations of negroes employed by several of the largest business organizations in the City of Williamsburg. It also includes a description of the social and economic conditions among Negroes in the area.

Page 3.

II. Survey of the Occupational Needs of the Area

The occupational problems and opportunities for Negroes in Williamsburg and the surrounding area, in the main, are similar to those in most rural and small town communities. Unique occupational opportunities are present, however, due to the restoration of historic Williamsburg and the intelligent and cultured tourists who visit the community annually.

A recent survey of the present employment of Negroes in the area reports the occupational status of 749 Negro men and 100 Negro women employed by the Williamsburg Restoration, the College of William and Mary, leading business establishments, in homes and on farms. Figures for the Restoration and the College of William and Mary were secured from the records of these institutions. Other facts were secured from questionnaires filled out by local business men and by the pupils in the Negro schools in Williamsburg, James City County, and in a portion of York county.

It will be noted in the table following that 247 or 29% of the group surveyed are employed with the Restoration and 117 or 14% are employed by the College of William and Mary.

Page 4.
Table Showing Present Employment in Williamsburg and James City County
Williamsburg RestorationWilliamsburg businessesCollege of William and MaryJames City Co. & Wmsbg (from school survey)Totals for Vocations
Laundry Workers77
Sawmill Hands1010
Truck drivers21611231
Housemen and Bellmen3030
Dish Washers2020
Waiters, Bus Boys etc.512879
Miscellaneous2110Janitors 26125182
TOTAL MEN2118577376749
Maids and Janitresses234063
Food Preparation55
TOTAL WOMEN364024100
Grand Total24785117400849
Page 5.

The average annual incomes of employees are as follows:

Williamsburg RestorationMen$894.60
Women 399.24
College of William and MaryMen$661.00
Leading businesses in WilliamsburgMen$629.00

The United States Census for 1930 indicates that there were 1219 Negroes gainfully employed in Williamsburg and James City County. Of this number 386 were employed in agriculture; 136 in the building industry and in manufacturing industries; 27 were in wholesale or retail business; 255 in domestic and personal service and 69 in professional or semi-professional service.

Census figures could not be segregated for the section of York County to be served by the school.

The major occupational needs of the area may be grouped under four headings. These are listed in the order of importance according to numbers employed.

  • 1.Agriculture needs — to include the following:
    • a.Farm programs for men with part-time employment
    • b.Poultry raisers
    • c.Farm managers
    • d.Trained farm workers
    • e.Trained gardeners for lawns and gardens.
    • f.Truck farmers
    • g.Farm owners
  • Page 6.
  • 2.Institutional, domestic and personal service — to include:
    • a.Hotel service including cooks, waiters, bellmen, doormen, maids
    • b.Domestic service, including cooks, laundresses, child nurses, floor and home furnishings and caretaking
    • c.Personal service including personal maids, menders, pressers, bootblacks for shoes and leather goods
  • 3.Arts and crafts for men and women, including shuckmats, chair caning, weaving of rugs and other household articles, small broom-making, small wooden articles and other articles to be made by hand which should be of interest to tourists, painting
  • 4.Automobile service and care, including cleaning ,washing, polishing, and minor repairs
  • 5.Qualities of service and personality required in the area in view of the exceptional intelligence and culture of residents and of tourists who visit this area. It is important that qualities of service and personality required be listed to include:
    • a.Cleanliness and neatness in appearance and in service
    • b.Thoroughness in carrying out duties with or without supervision
    • c.Dependability and honesty
    • d.Good health — freedom from disease and full of vitality
    • Page 7.
    • e.Courtesy and a sense or appropriate relations toward employers, tourists, and fellow workers

The occupational needs listed above do not include a number of relatively minor needs of the area. Those listed, however, are all included after careful investigation, and consultation with representative leaders within and outside the community.

It should be noted further, that much of the employment is seasonal. The Williamsburg Restoration reports a reduction of 50% of its staff during December, January, and February of each year. Workers at the College of William and Mary are also reduced during summer months.

Figures were not available for the exact number of Negro women employed as domestic servants, but reliable observers report a shortage of domestic workers in the homes due to the increased demands of the Williamsburg Restoration.

Page 8.

III. Occupational Needs Which Lend Themselves to
Instruction in an Adequate
Educational Program

  • A. Needs seen in the present area which are either not met at all or are inadequately met
    • 1.Agriculture
      • a.Use of small farms for "people employed part time
      • b.Poultry raising
      • c.Training farm owners
      • d.Training farm managers
      • e.Training farm workers
      • f.Training people to care for shrubs and gardens
      • g.Trucking
      • h.Raising seeds indigenous to the area
    • 2.Institutional, domestic and personal services
      • Hotel service
      • Home service for maids, nurses, etc.
      • Personal maids, sewing and mending, cleaning and pressing, boot blacks
    • 3.Crafts
      • a.Chair caning
      • b.Making rugs, mats
      • c.Small wooden articles made by hand
      • d.Broom-making
    • 4.Automobile Service and care
  • Page 9.
  • B. General education and pre-vocational training for occupations common over a wider area than that served immediately by the school, such as training in
    • 1.Woodwork and painting
    • 2.Metal work
    • 3.Electric work
    • 4.Drawing and printing
Page 10.

IV. Social Conditions in the Area

Economic Status

Approximately 80% of Negroes gainfully employed in the area receive a marginal income. This includes farm and business owners, and tenants as well as wage workers. An annual gross income of $600 or less for a family of six is considered marginal. Of all Negroes gainfully employed, 9 are farm laborers and wage workers, almost entirely unskilled.

Negroes in the area own about $300,000 in property and about 7,000 acres of land. This ownership represents about one-thirteenth of the total property owned and about one-ninth of the acreage.

The homes are typical of those of the marginal Virginia Negro. The houses, clothing, diet, and home membership fall far short of adequate standards for decent living. The Negro families in this area are largely without modern conveniences and generally live in houses that are poorly built and in need of repair. A large majority of the houses need screens or repair to existing screens, replacement of roofs, and other necessary repairs. Many are without toilets of any kind. Such conveniences as running water and electricity are rare.

A high percentage of the families have a poorly balanced, and at certain seasons, an inadequate diet. Many families have few eggs, no cow or other sources of milk supply, inadequate or no gardens, and a very limited supply of fruit.

Page 11.

According to the 1930 Census, the percentages of illiteracy for Negroes are as follows:

James City County19.9%
York County14.4.%
(These percentages are comparatively high.)


No recreational facilities are provided in any community in the area except a motion picture house for Negroes in Williamsburg, and a temporary bathing beach on the James River. The James City County Training School in Williamsburg provides a moderate amount of recreation for the children at the school.


The area presents a gloomy picture in the field of health. About 62% of the Negro children in school have physical defects. The area is among the highest in infant death rate of the forty-eight counties in Virginia having more than 30% Negro population.

The physician in charge of the local health district of the State Department of Health states that his chief concerns for the health of Negroes in this area are: tuberculosis, venereal diseases, malnutrition, impairment of teeth and sight, infected tonsils, and the usual communicable diseases. To these may be added the need for immunization, and education for the removal of superstitions, so prevalent among the Negro population, relating to the cause, prevention, and cure of disease.

The local health officer also reports that a high percentage Page 12. of the Negro population is underweight. He further states that the incidence of syphilis and tuberculosis is high.

While the percentage of children and adults with dental and sight defects is very high, little provision is made in the area for correction of these defects. The area has no Negro dentist and no Negro specialist in correction of sight defects. There is one Negro physician in the area who is a general practitioner.

The great majority of Negro mothers in this area are attended by midwives. Lack of competence of the midwives due to inadequate or no instruction, and lack of knowledge of desirable pre-natal care on the part of the mothers account partly for the high rate of mortality among infants and mothers. The low income of the Negro group precludes, in most cases, the employment of medical care by private physicians.

Page 13.

V. Projected Plan of Education

The dominating purpose of the plan of education which is adopted should be an education for the common welfare — an education to prepare the Negro people to meet the practical problems of the community in which they live.

Such a dominating purpose will be an important factor in the selection of the personnel which will give the instruction and in the selection of the subject matter which is used.

  • I.The elementary Unit: Grades I to VII
    In addition to the regular subjects prescribed in the State Course of Study, it would seem advisable to give special consideration to the following:
    • 1.Industrial education with due consideration for craft work
    • 2.Music, games and dances
    • 3.Health education
    • 4.Fine arts
  • II.The Secondary Unit: Grades VIII to XI
    In addition to such subjects as English, social studies, including citizenship, practical mathematics, and biology (Plant life), the following subjects should claim consideration:
    • 1.Home education, including cooking, sewing, maid service, laundry, care of floors and furniture, etc.
    • 2.Industrial education including wood work, crafts, auto Page 14. service, etc., with consideration of part-time work
    • 3.Music, games and dances
    • 4.Health education
    • 5.Fine arts
  • III.Post School Units: For boys and girls out of school and for adults largely in evening classes
    • 1.Automobile service for men
    • 2.Cabinet making and wood finishing for men
    • 3.Garden and trucking including growing of seeds for men and women
    • 4.Hotel service for waiters, chamber maids and house men
    • 5.Crafts for men and women to include:
      Shuck mats, chair caning, weaving of rugs and other household articles, small broom-making, small wooden articles which can be made by hand and other articles which should be of interest to tourists
    • 6.Group and community singing including folk dancing
    • 7.Health education

Note 1: Such instruction should aim to provide additional employment when seasonal employment ends. Crafts, gardening, seed growing and trucking might be balanced with the seasonal needs of the tourist industry.

Note 2: The health program should be carried on for adults as well as children. In the light of prevailing health conditions cited under Part III, there appears to be need for a full-time graduate nurse who would take care of the general health instruction and health Page 15. program of the school, disseminate health information among parents, visit homes of children absent on account of illness, help to secure proper medical attention when needed and give pre-natal care to mothers and instruction to midwives.

Adequate facilities for serving school lunches are needed for all children and with special provisions for serving free lunches to children underweight and undernourished.

Clinics for correction of dental defects, immunization, and treatment of other prevalent diseases should be held.

Note 3: The educational program contemplates the coordination of the work of all public welfare agencies such as the work of the

  • State Board of Health
  • The Department of Public Welfare
  • The county Farm Agents
  • The Home Demonstration Agents
  • The Churches
  • Parent-Teacher Association
  • Recreational Agencies
  • Other Community Organizations

Page 16.

VI. Personnel Needs

A high type of personnel is needed to carry on this program. The principal should be a person with wide experience, good training, and one who envisions the educational possibilities of the program contemplated.

The complete staff needed:

Regular elementary, teachers18
High school teachers for general educational program7
Teacher of arts and crafts1
Teachers of shop work2
Teacher of agriculture (including—gardening and trucking)1
Teacher of vocational home economics1
Teachers of physical education and recreation2

Several members of this staff should be employed on a twelve-month basis; namely, the principal, the teacher of arts and crafts, the teacher of agriculture, the teacher of vocational home economics, the nurse and at least one of the teachers of physical education and recreation.

Page 17.

It should be pointed out that the projected program calls for community education and that a number of members of the staff would spend a large portion or their time working with adults.

Page 18.

VII. Building and Equipment

The proposed building for housing the educational program outlined in the foregoing sections should include the following:

  • 18 elementary classrooms
  • 2 workrooms for the elementary school
  • 8 high school classrooms (including science laboratories)
  • 4 shop rooms
  • 1 room for soil, seed, and greenhouse
  • 1 auditorium (800 capacity)
  • 1 cafeteria and tea room
  • 1 library room
  • 1 recreation unit including
    • 1 gymnasium with lockers, showers, etc.
    • 1 reading room
    • 4 auxiliary rooms for games, clubs, etc.
  • 1 health unit including clinic rooms
  • 1 home economics cottage

Architects estimate the cost of such a building at $300 per pupil. Estimated cost of equipment $50 per pupil.

Present enrollment of 700 pupils
Potential enrollment of 600 pupils:

Page 19.

VIII. Annual Cost of Personnel and Maintenance

Teachers (elementary and high school) 25 x $72018,000
Director of physical education and recreation1,500
Woman assistant (singing, games, dancing)720
Arts and crafts1,000
Shop teacher1,000
Assistant shop teacher720
Vocational home economics (home education)1,200
Page 20.

IX. Budget of Expenditures for Instruction and Maintenance

Adopted for 1938-39PositionNumberProposed Program
1090Vocational Agriculture Teacher11200
610Home Economics Teacher11200
7201 High School Teacher1720
6301 High School Teacher1720
6201 High School Teacher1720
5501 High School Teacher1720
18303 Elementary Teachers @ 1938-39: $610 Proposed: $72032160
12002 Elementary Teachers @ 1938-39: 600 Proposed: 72021440
5501 Elementary Teacher @ 1938-39: 550 Proposed: 7201720
40509 Elementary Teachers @ 1938-39: 450 Proposed: 72096480
Additions for Expanded Program
High School Teachers $7203$2160
Elementary Teachers 72032160
Shop Teachers(1000
Director of Physical Education and Recreation11500
Woman Assistant Physical Education and Recreation1720
Arts and Crafts Teacher11000
Total for new teachers14$11830
$12940Total teachers and instruction36$29910
Page 21.

The following summary, based in part upon the preceding table, shows the amount available for schools in the area as compared with the cost of the proposed plan and of the cost of an alternate plan.*

Amount being spent for schools in area at present (A)$15,325
Estimated increase in State funds under proposed program4,500
Home Economics900
Industrial Arts1,000
Total amount available for centralized plant$19,825
Total cost of proposed Program (B)$33,910
Annual increase needed to operate proposed program14,085
($33,910 - $19,825)
Total cost of alternate Program $28,770
Annual 1ncrease needed to operate alternate program8,945
($28,770 - $l9,825)
Page 22.

X. Showing the number of schools, enrollment, and budgeted amounts for Operating schools of the Area for 1938 - 39

There are five schools in the area at present, located as follows: one in Williamsburg, two in James City County, and two in York County. The Williamsburg school serves as the elementary and high school for the city and as the high school for the whole county of James City. A few elementary children from James City County living near the city attend the Williamsburg school. The two James City County schools are elementary schools. One of the York County schools does only elementary work and the other has thirty-two pupils doing eighth and ninth grade work.

The enrollments in these schools are:

Elementary pupilsHigh School pupils
James City County (two schools)133--
York County (two schools)24732
Total elementary and high school enrollment - 718.

The different school divisions have set up the following amounts in their budgets for the schools in the area for 1938 - 39.

James City County5,000
York County4,000

Page 23.

XI. Summary and Recommendations

  • I. The survey reveals the possibility of bringing together at Williamsburg as a regional center approximately 700 pupils when a building is ready to receive them. This will eliminate the following schools:
    • 1.Two elementary schools in James City County
    • 2.One elementary and one elementary and high school in York County
  • II.The survey reveals the needs for the following types of instruction in addition to the offerings in the regular State Course of Study:
    • 1.Poultry raising
    • 2.Gardening and trucking including raising of seeds
    • 3.Farm management and workers
    • 4.Waiters
    • 5.Chambermaids and nurses
    • 6.Valet service
    • 7. Domestic and personal servants.
    • 8.Crafts including:
      • Chair making and caning,
      • Rug and shuck mat weaving
      • Small broom-making
      • Small wooden articles made by hand
    • 9.Automobile service and minor repairing
    • 10.Cabinet making
    • 11.General shop including metal, electrical and printing
    Page 24.

    Most of the work will be short trade courses for adults and young people out of school. The training given to both adult and minor Negroes should be of such a nature as to enable them to use their unemployed time to more advantage, increase their annual earnings, and raise their standard of living. Training of the nature indicated in this program should be of direct value in bettering their home life and in giving them a means of earning money during unemployed periods or in otherwise augmenting their earning power.

    The entire project, while increasing the potential earning capacity of the local Negroes should also serve to lessen the tendency to become "floaters" in order to earn a more continuous wage. By helping them to remain stabilized residents, it would protect Negro character, morale and good citizenship.

  • III.The survey reveals the need for special emphasis on the following, chiefly for adults:
    • 1.Health and recreation
    • 2.Community activities — music, art, games, and dance
    • 3.Coordination of welfare agencies
    • 4.Home making
  • IV.To maintain a program to meet the educational needs of this proposed center on a minimum scale satisfactory to the State, plus the additional services, the following annual amounts would be necessary
    1. Regular teaching staff$l8,080
    2. Additional services11,830
    3. Maintenance of plant4,000
    Page 25.

    If the present scale of salaries is used, the annual amount needed would be as follows:

    1. Regular teaching staff$12,940
    2. Additional services11,830
    3. Maintenance of plant4,000
    The annual amount of local, State and Federal funds available to apply to the maintenance and operation of the program is $19,825.

    The annual amount needed to meet the minimum State program is $14,085.

    The annual amount needed to meet the program on the present scale of salaries is $8,945.

  • V.The building needs to care for this program are as follows:
    Standard class rooms28
    Shops, including agriculture4
    Cafeteria and tea room1
    Gymnasium and game rooms5
    Home Economics Cottage1
    Green house1

    The estimated costs for a building which would provide for 700 pupils with the foregoing services for this center are as follows:

    Building — based on $300 per pupil$210,000
    Equipment — based on $50 per pupil35,000

This report has been prepared by a committee consisting of Superintendent Rawls Byrd or Williamsburg; Dean K. J. Hoke; William Cooper of Hampton Institute and Fred Alexander, State Supervisor of Negro Education.

In addition to the members of this Committee, those taking part in making the survey, and in formulating the report were:

  • Raymond Long, State Supervisor of School Buildings
  • W. E. Carter, Director of the Hampton Institute
  • C. E. Hedden, Supervisor of Trade Teaching, Hampton Institute
  • L. C. White, Secretary of Records, Hampton Institute
  • E. W. Graves, State Supervisor of Health and Physical Education
  • Clarence Jennings, Superintendent James City County Schools
  • T. Ryland Sanford, Superintendent York County Schools
  • D. Walter D. Newman, State Supervisor of Agricultural Education, and Miss Martha Creighton, State Supervisor of Home Economics Education gave advice in formulating the program.

May 12, 1938.

Appendix II

RR037301Dedication of Bruton Heights School

Page 2 - dedication


In 1937 the Williamsburg School Board realized the necessity of erecting a new school building, or of making extensive repairs to the James City County Training School. During that year, as plans were being considered for the construction of a new plant, it was learned that there was a possibility of some funds from outside sources to help build and equip a school plant that would care of the educational needs of this area.

In the spring of 1938 a survey was made showing that the Negro population of Williamsburg, Jamestown District of James City-County, and Bruton District of York County was approximately twenty-six hundred. This included about eight hundred children of school age. This area of about twelve square miles lies between the York and James Rivers and extends about five miles east and west of Williamsburg. This was found to be the logical area to be served by the type of school program under consideration. The survey revealed definite needs for improving the health, educational, economic, recreational, and social life of the people of this area. This survey committee made the following statement concerning the program for the school and community: "The dominating purpose of the plan of education which is adopted should be an education for the common welfare—an education to prepare the Negro people to meet the practical problems of the community in which they live". The Williamsburg School Board, and the School Boards of York and James City Counties expressed an interest in the survey and gave further study to it and the suggested proposals. The findings were submitted to the State Department of Education and the General Education Board for their consideration and approval. An application was made to the Public Works Administration and to other organizations and interested individuals, for funds to aid in erecting a suitable school plant. As a result funds were secured from the following sources: $98,500 from the Public Works Administration; $55,500 from the City of Williamsburg; $10,000 from the sale of the James County Training School property; $50,000 from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.; $35,000 from the General Education Board for equipment with an additional amount for maintenance over a period of years; and the donation of a thirty-acre school site.

Bruton Heights School comprises three units: a Main Building consisting of seventeen classrooms, science laboratory, gymnasium, auditorium, library, cafeteria health suite, book room, music suite, and offices; the Vocational Arts Building consisting of two classrooms and two shop rooms to accommodate groups in vocational agriculture and general shop work; and the Cottage—a model home consisting of a living room dining room, bedroom, bath, kitchen, laundry, a general purpose room, and laboratory kitchen.

This school is rightfully termed a community school as its program and the design of its physical plant provide opportunities to take care of the needs of all the Negro people as revealed by the survey report. In the fullest sense it represents a community center where people may come together to enrich the person-to-person relationships of pupils, teachers, parents and citizens of the community in solving their common problems.

RR037304Dedication of Bruton Heights School

Second page of Dedication

Third page of Dedication

Fourth page of Dedication

RR037308Closing Prayer

Appendix III

RR037309Actual Needs and Practicable Solutions
Bruton Heights School


What can be done through careful planning in which everyone concerned has opportunity to participate is demonstrated by the Bruton Heights School at Williamsburg, Virginia.

"What are the needs of the Negro people in this area?" was the question posed by the School Board when the planning began. Two years later their answer to this question had evolved in the form of a consolidated school which was to serve as "a community center where people may come together to enrich person-to-person relationships of pupils, teachers, parents, and citizens of the community in solving their common problems."

Three more years have passed. The school is completely fulfilling the ordinary requirements of elementary and high school education for about seven hundred children. In addition it is serving both young people and adults of the community in programs of education, health, recreation, and sociability. It offers hospitality, likewise, to Negro service men in the area, hundreds of whom come in from nearby camps each week. They not only participate in the regular recreational and cultural programs for adults but also enjoy a center now maintained at the school by the U.S.O.

Activities Are Continuous

The doors of the school open about 7:45 in the morning. They are seldom closed before midnight. In the course of a month the cumulative attendance at the various activities, including school itself, is upwards of twenty thousand. That there are many repeaters can be concluded readily from the fact that the civilian Negro population is only about 2600.

Nor can the charge be made at Bruton Heights that a fine plant stands idle three months of the year. The summer program includes a workshop for the teachers; a community recreation program in which people of all ages participate in games, crafts, music, skating, hikes, and general sociability; two clinics a week held in cooperation with the public health department; canning and laundry demonstrations and leadership training projects in food conservation; continuous attention by agriculture instructors to the food production program; and movies in the school auditorium—two shows a night five nights a week—administered now as a semi-commercial venture.

Except for the day-time recreation program, the summer activities are, in large part, a continuation of those which go on during the school year. There have been special programs for the entire community in fields such as health, recreation, agricultural production. In some cases they have been initiated and carried out by the school staff; in others by the staff in cooperation with the appropriate governmental or social agencies. In all there has been general participation by the pupils, each age group on its own level, and increasingly widespread participation by adults.

A Healthier and More Beautiful Community

In health, for example, there was emphasis on personal cleanliness and hygiene. With the smaller children the approach was a direct one. Cooperation of parents was enlisted. Older girls were given practical courses in child care which carried over into the homes through special home projects. On the high-school level the approach was scientific rather than personal. Health and sanitation officials cooperated. A cleanup campaign aimed at mosquito control extended from school to home to community. As a result of the school shop's teaching how to make screens and providing materials at cost, about 75 homes were screened. Similarly many provided themselves with sanitary toilets.

Home improvement was another point of emphasis. The school shop encouraged the construction of new articles and repair of old. Every boy carried on a home project. Long needed repairs were made because the school demonstrated the possibility. More than 25 homes were painted during the first two years. Numerous flower gardens were planted.

To encourage beautification, one church was painted; trees were cut to furnish parking space; the wood was used to build sanitary toilets on the grounds; shrubs and flowers were planted; and concrete steps were built. All this was done as a "demonstration"—even to the raising of money at entertainments. Within a two-year period all the other churches in the area were painted by members, and the grounds of many were landscaped.

Increased Food Production

On the food production front, much has been accomplished. People were taught the importance of fertilizer. Its use was made possible through cooperative buying at the school. Seven tractors have been acquired in the community by individual or cooperative purchase. A small one owned by the school this spring plowed 35 gardens for townspeople who had no horses or mules and had never bothered before to have gardens. Incidentally the plowing earned $75 for the school. The same tractor dug potatoes in the fall and earned a share of the produce for the cafeteria. Construction of hot-beds served as a demonstration and also made possible the distribution of plants at cost. The school distributed more than 33,000 in 1942. Cooperative purchase of seed was another method of encouraging every family to have a garden.

Poultry production was increased from practically zero in 1940 to 9500 chicks in 1942. The school acted as purchasing agent and thus assured the people of good stock. Two demonstration brooder houses were built for interested citizens, with the understanding that they would pay for materials from income from the poultry. They are doing so, and, in the meantime, a number of other persons have built brooder houses for themselves.

Recreation and Culture

Large attendance and continued interest in the movies indicated that they were meeting a real community need. A 16 mm projector and small screen with educational films were found inadequate for the public programs. Adhering to its philosophy of building a school-community program on the basis of needs and interests, the school board procured a 35 mm projector and a trained operator to show first-run pictures. The program is now self-sustaining. Game nights, community sings, banquets for various organizations are still carried by the school. It has sponsored also such cultural programs as the Hampton Choir and Southernaires.

Responsible Citizenship

Good and responsible citizenship has been emphasized with both children and adults. Pride in ownership and appearance of property has increased. Stressing responsibility of the citizen to the community in which he lives has resulted in the formation of several Tax Clubs for saving money to pay taxes when they are due. One such club now has $300 in savings.

In spite of the continuous use of the plant, it shows no more than ordinary wear and tear. The people feel a responsibility for and pride in their school which finds expression in good care. Even with present inadequacies in janitorial services, the Bruton Heights School is well cared for and attractive. How the building can be clean and ready for children in the morning after an evening including a movie, a Community League meeting, and a party for service men is something of a mystery. But the evidence is there.

Preliminary Study and Planning

Impressive though the program is, it is even more interesting to note the process by which it has evolved and continues to evolve. Preliminary planning was important and basic but in no sense regarded as finished when the school opened. Evaluating and adapting the program to changing needs as they are recognized have been continuous.

The preliminary survey was begun in 1938 under the general supervision of the Williamsburg School Board and the chairmanship of Superintendent Rawls Byrd. The natural area to be served also included portions of York and James City Counties adjacent to Williamsburg. The superintendents in those two counties and representatives of their school boards were invited to sit with the Survey Committee. In addition, members of the State Department of Education and of the staffs of the College of William and Mary, Hampton Institute, and Virginia State College assisted. The survey revealed that though most of the Negroes lived in rural communities and many owned land, few of them earned a living, or even supplemented their income, by food production. About 90 per cent were employed as unskilled wage workers and farm laborers, and about 80 per cent of these had marginal incomes. Diets were inadequate. Yet very few kept a cow or chickens, and there were practically no gardens or fruit in the area. Housing was poor. There were few modern conveniences or sanitary facilities. The health situation was bad. More than 60 per cent of the children had physical defects. Tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were prevalent. Educational facilities were poor and recreational opportunities totally lacking.

The Survey Committee recommended a plan for an educational program which would enable the group to develop better homes with subsistence gardens and poultry, and at the same time give individuals opportunity to become more skilled in the type of employment in which they were participating. It was felt that such a program could be planned to meet these needs without sacrificing the usual cultural advantages.

Five schools consolidated to make a new district serving an area in which about 2600 Negroes lived in 13 distinct communities. The new school was placed in the geographical center of the district, and transportation provided. The Williamsburg School Board took the major responsibility for getting funds. Federal funds from the PWA program, a gift from Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and money from the sale of old school property to the Restoration supplemented local appropriations to make possible an unusually fine group of buildings. A three-year grant from a Foundation was added to the pooled resources of the three political sub-divisions to procure equipment and start the program.

The Staff Also Plans

While the building was being constructed Mr. Henry D. Carpenter, Jr., then secretary of the Negro Organization Society, was selected as principal and offered a year of graduate study at a university. At the advice of Superintendent Byrd he decided that more would be gained from spending half that time studying the community he was to serve. Results have justified this decision. Taking the school census gave him opportunity to call at every home in the area. His planning could be based on what he saw and knew in terms of human beings rather than on mere educational theories and statistical reports.

The staff was made up of some who had taught in the abandoned schools and others brought in because of need for their special skills in the new program. Some of them already knew the people and each other; others were strangers who must be enabled to identify themselves with community life; all needed opportunity to develop as a group "into a functioning and cooperating unit." Provision was made for this during the summer preceding the opening of the new school. They had opportunity to think and plan together for six weeks in a conference under the supervision of Superintendent Byrd and Dr. Fred M. Alexander, State Supervisor of Negro Education. State specialists and nationally known educators, including Dr. L. Thomas Hopkins as chief visiting advisor, were invited to help in the process of planning immediate and long-range goals.

The Community Participates

Recognizing the fact that a program, no matter how ideal, cannot be effective without the understanding and cooperation of the community it serves, the leaders and teachers met with citizens. They went into every community. They attended every organization. "What do we want our school to do for the community?" was asked of everyone. Some people expressed individual desires such as, "I'd like to be able to get me a cow." Others, even in the beginning, thought in terms of "community."

"I am interested in training young people in farming," one said. "Train them to take a few acres and make a living."

Other suggestions were a movie for Negroes, better housing, training for skilled jobs, and better preparation for homemaking. One man summed it all up in the statement: "We need cooperation around here. We need more cooperation around here than anything else. All kinds of cooperation."

School-Community Planning Continues

The school program in 1940 was based on that preliminary staff conference. A similar conference has been held each succeeding summer: At the later conferences the teachers have attempted to evaluate and to plan on the basis of experience. Major changes brought about by the war have necessitated some departures from the original ideas. The basic principle of group evaluation and planning, however, has never had to be changed. It has made possible orderly procedure in the face even of such problems as the uprooting almost overnight of one entire community to make way for a camp; or the influx in a single week of as many as a thousand Negro service men needing recreation.

Just as staff planning has been continuous, so has opportunity for community participation. There is a Bruton Heights Community League which holds occasional meetings for the entire area. Smaller organizations meet regularly in each of the thirteen neighborhoods. One teacher acts as sponsor for each club. She invites the home economics or agriculture teachers, the librarian, music teacher, nurse, or other available specialists to help with the program. The original plan provided for use of former school buildings as community centers. Only one now survives. The active program that goes on in that neighborhood may be interpreted as evidence of the importance of a "center."

In its entire program the emphasis of the school has been on working out ways of teaching that would give everyone an understanding of the. process. It has tried to teach people how to do things rather than to do things for them. There have been difficulties and some misunderstandings. In many cases parents have failed to understand the relation between the practical problems they suggested for the school to work on and the program as they see it in process. They cling to traditional ideas of school as a place where children sit in seats fastened to the floor and study things in books.

"How come," a patron will ask, "that this boy is out of school driving a tractor?"

Or another whose child is physically under par will remark that she sends her children to school to study, not to play, take rest periods, or hike in the woods. Yet the school persists both in its functional approach to education and in its attempt to interpret it to the community. If any program is to succeed, the principal maintains, the adults must understand it. Through continued opportunity for participation, the adults at Bruton Heights have grown in understanding. Staff members and those directing the program say that if they were all to leave, they believe the program would continue because so much of it has been taken over by residents of the community. A remark made by a father at a recent community meeting bears this out: "It is our responsibility. The teachers will leave. But we live here."

And the evidence is that they are enabling themselves to live an increasingly abundant and satisfying life as a result of an educational program that meets actual needs with practicable solutions.


Education for the defense of democracy through socially useful work offers a program that challenges student and teacher to real tasks at a time of greatest need. It affords laboratory experience for education through doing … It is schooling grown up.

Let us give children a chance democratically to grow into a democracy they have helped to create.

-Morris Mitchell

To receive without cost the Issues in the New Dominion Series describing experimental approaches to democratic living that are being tried effectively in various communities, send your name and address to the Extension Division, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia.


^* This plan is arrived at by adding to the amount available for instruction and maintenance $15,325, the coast of additional services $11,830 plus the additional amount for maintenance, $1,615, $4,000 — 2,385.