Historic African-American Buildings Added to Virginia Landmarks Register


First Baptist Church in Farmville, VA
First Baptist Church in Farmville, VA

RICHMOND – The story of education for African Americans and women in Virginia factors into five of the sixteen sites the Department of Historic Resources recently listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register, the state’s official list of historically important places. The sites include a Farmville church, two Tidewater schools, a house in Falls Church, and a building at the University of Richmond.

The First Baptist Church in Farmville, founded 1867, emerged as a center for the local black community under the leadership of its pastor, the Reverend L. Francis Griffin, when it sought to desegregate Prince Edward County’s public schools during the 1950s and 1960s. Within weeks of an April 1951 student strike at the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School, Griffin successfully led efforts at the church to get youth, parents, and community leaders to support an important lawsuit of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

That federal suit filed in May 1951 as Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia was consolidated with four others into the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing public school segregation.

Rev. Griffin also pushed to get a privately funded and administered school opened in September 1963 to serve the county’s black students, after Prince Edward County closed its public schools beginning in September 1959 to avoid integration. In September 1964 the county integrated its schools after the Supreme Court ruled against it in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County.

Schools in Stafford County and in Franklin (Southampton County) also have stories to tell from the era of segregation.

The Stafford Training School was built in 1939 during the Great Depression by the Public Works Administration after African Americans formed a “county league” to donate money to purchase the land for the school, the only black high school in Stafford County during segregation.

In 1960 students from the school were the first in the area to try integrating all-white Stafford County High School. That attempt failed, but it was followed successfully in 1961 and 1962. The training school building, used continually since 1939, was restored in 2005 and today’s property retains a circa-1940 baseball field.

Hayden High School in Franklin was built in 1953 to replace an overcrowded and all-black high school building from 1906 that was in poor condition. For proponents of school segregation, a fiercely contested issue in Virginia and elsewhere in the U.S. at the time, the new school building represented a modern “separate but equal” educational facility. In 1970, the school was desegregated as a junior high.

The Henderson House in Falls Church was the home of influential civil rights advocates Edwin Bancroft “E.B.” Henderson and his wife, Mary Ellen Meriwether Henderson. E.B. Henderson was the nation’s first certified African-American male physical education instructor. He also co-founded the Colored Citizen’s Protective League, which by 1915 became the first rural branch in the nation of the NAACP.

Mary Ellen Henderson was a teacher and school principal in Falls Church, where she led efforts that improved schools for black students. She introduced a disparity study comparing Virginia’s all-black, all-white schools, influencing construction of a new school facility in the city. She also served on an oversight committee for integrating schools, following the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.

A Craftsman bungalow from around 1913, the Henderson House is one of the few remaining in the area from early 20th century.

Built in 1913, North Court Hall at the University of Richmond resulted from the decision in 1906 of then-Richmond College to broaden its educational offerings for women, who were first admitted to the college in 1898. The decision inspired college leaders to secure a new location for the school so it could create a separate women’s college.

In 1914, the college moved from the City of Richmond to a new park-like campus six miles away where its leaders opened a re-envisioned Richmond College along with Westhampton College for women. Together in 1920, the colleges were accredited as the University of Richmond.

Located in the heart of today’s UR campus, North Court served as the main building for Westhampton College, where women could find higher educational opportunities in an era when colleges primarily catered to men.

North Court exemplifies the Collegiate Gothic architectural style. Its exterior walls are composed of brick with slate tiles covering its multiple gabled roofs. Enclosing a courtyard, the building also features a parapet and projecting pediments. Originally North Court housed all the spaces needed for a self-contained women’s college including a dormitory, dining room, kitchen, administrative offices, reading room, chapel, and classrooms.

In advance of the 100th anniversary in 2014 marking its move to its present-day location, the University of Richmond and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have partnered to list, in addition to North Court Hall, two other buildings in the Virginia Landmarks Register, Ryland Hall and Cannon Memorial Chapel.

Ryland Hall, also completed in 1913, anchored the new Richmond College campus. It also features character-defining Gothic Revival architectural elements and consists of two parallel wings, Robert Ryland and Charles Ryland halls, set apart by a covered connecting passageway.

Cannon Memorial Chapel, constructed in 1929, was designed in the Late Gothic Revival style by Charles M. Robinson, a prominent Virginia architect who designed many of Virginia’s public schools as well as buildings at today’s James Madison University and the College of William and Mary.

Recalling the university’s character as denominational institution, Cannon Memorial Chapel features a large interior nave with a soaring vaulted ceiling, arched stain glass windows along its clearstory, and a rose window above its entrance. The exterior is constructed of brick and stone and cast concrete pinnacles.

article via nbc29.com

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