African American Education in IOW County, VA

Attempts to eliminate illiteracy were extended to the Indians as well as to the white population as early as 1737.  Slaves and/or free blacks were not included in this group.  In 1779, Thomas Jefferson introduced a bill in the legislature of Virginia "for a more general diffusion of knowledge," which was the first effort made to establish public schools in America.  Col. E. W. Morrison was appointed in 1870 as the first division superintendent of Isle of Wight County Public Schools.

Education for Negroes

In the first year of the Isle of Wight County Public School System, the authorities had provided five schools for Negroes. These schools were located at Smithfield, Gravel Hill, Bailey's Chapel, Orbit, and one in the Windsor District.  There was an increase of one Negro school in 1875, and in 1880, thirteen schools were reported in Isle of Wight County.  Col. Morrison reported the difficulty of securing Negro teachers and even secured several qualified Negro teachers from the North.  As early as 1872, he had reported that Negroes of the County were manifesting a great desire for education.  A report of one of the Superintendent's visitation in 1881 illustrates the interest the Negroes were taking in their schools.  This account was of a visit to the school one mile from Windsor.  The building as Col. Morrison reported, and substantiated by persons living in the community today, was constructed by the teacher, George Gwaltney, at his own expense.  In this school the Superintendent found blackboards and maps.  The blackboards were also made by the teacher.  The building was reported as being excellent.  George Gwaltney taught the Negro youths of the Windsor Community for over forty years and rendered a splendid service to his race.  He retired in the early 1920.

 In January 1, 1871, the Newport District School Board met and agreed to maintain seven schools as follows:

  •  Town of Smithfield, three schools, one for white boys, one for white girls, and one Negro School.
  •  The vicinity of Carroll's Shop; one white and one Negro school.
  •  The neighborhood of Col. Darden's; one white, one Negro School.

    These schools were located in the three sections of the Newport District, and today would be found in the Town of Smithfield, at Carrollton, and near Orbit.  The Newport School District determined that the schools should run for five months.

    In January 22, 1871, the Hardy District School Board met and agreed to establish and maintain four schools; one in the vicinity of Burwell's Bay, one near Mill Swamp Church, one at Pulley's Old School House, and one at Bank's.  Of these schools only the last named, Bank's, was for Negro children.

    There is no record to indicate what schools, if any, the Windsor Board established, but the report of visitations of Superintendent Morrison for 1871 mentions the following schools in that district; near Ducksville, near T. J. Clements, a Negro School on the Council Farm, likely what we called today, Camptown.

     In 1871, the Isle of Wight School Board reported twenty-five schools-- twenty for whites and five for Negro pupils.

     After ten years in office, the first Superintendent of Isle of Wight Public Schools saw some improvement.  His comments on some of the Colored schools visited in 1881 are as follows:

    "Colored School at James Tynes - has blackboards and wall maps; good school
    R. H. Eley's. Colored - house comfortable; has blackboards; school good
    George E. Gwaltney, Windsor Colored School - has blackboards, homemade"

  • Growth in the Qualifications of Teachers

    During the first eighteen years of the County's Unit Administration, there was a growth in the qualifications of both the colored and white teachers in the Isle of Wight schools.  There were only nine teachers in the white schools during the session of 1922-1923 holding the Collegiate Professional or Collegiate Teacher's Certificate, this certificate being issued after four years of college work.  In 1939-1940, thirty-four of the white elementary and high school teachers held the higher certificates and were college graduates.  In addition, there were fourteen others with the Normal Professional certificate.

    For the first years of the County's School Administration set-up, Isle of Wight did not have a Negro teacher with more than one year of training above the high school level.  In 1925-1926, the first Normal Professional certificated Negro teacher in Isle of Wight County schools was placed in the county.  Seven, or 16.9% of the 1939-1940 Negro teachers were college graduates, and thirty-two or 77.7% held Normal Professional certificates, or above.

    Improvement in Negro Education

    The Negro schools in Isle of Wight County had improved comparatively as much as the white schools during the 1925-1926 and 1939-1940 periods.  The County School Board inherited from the old District Boards the following Negro schools:  Riverview, a four teacher school at Smithfield; Livy Neck, Gravel Hill, Fair Oaks, Godwins, Shiloh, Christian Home, Rising Star, Mitchells, Macedonia, Holly Grove, Eleys, Allens, Central Hill, Ebenezer, all with one teacher each; and Windsor and Muddy Fork with two teachers each.  Of these schools only one, Riverview, did any high school work, and that was a two-year course.  Riverview, a four-room and two-story building; Trinity, a three-room building constructed about 1910, and in very good shape; Godwins, an old abandoned store room; Christian Home, a small twenty by twenty foot, ill-ventilated and badly lighted building; Muddy Fork, a small two-room structure; and Windsor, a fairly substantial building erected in 1920 represented the property used for Negroes and owned by the County. 

    The other schools for colored children were housed in halls or other privately owned buildings.  Gradually the County School Board consolidated some of these schools, erecting new buildings and otherwise improving school facilities for the Negro race.  In many cases, sites for the new buildings were acquired as a gift from the Negro patrons.  During this period, buildings for Negroes were erected at Holly Grove; Christian Home, a two-room building; Carrollton, a two-room building; Macedonia, whose name was changed to New Hope; Moonfield, Old Rising Star, but renamed Moonfield in honor of Captain John Moon, and located near or on the former plantation of Captain Moon, who, in Colonial times, left the increase from a stock of cattle to be used for schooling; McClelland; Sandy Mount; Ebenezer; Lawnes, a three-teacher school, combining Fair Oaks and Gravel Hill, and named after Sir Christopher Lawne, who established the first settlement in this County; Camptown, a four-room building combining the Jamestown School and AlIens; Mitchells, a two- room school; Godwins; Carrsville, a two room school; and the Isle of Wight Training School, an eight-room modern brick building erected in 1928 on a site of seven acres donated by patrons of the school, and replacing the ancient Riverview school. An agricultural and a Home Economics building was later erected, providing courses in Agriculture for colored boys and girls of the County.  The Isle of Wight Training High School soon became a four-year accredited high school and had attained an enrollment of one hundred and sixty-five in the 1939-1940 session.  At that time, the school served as a high school for Negroes for the entire County, with County-owned buses transporting children from the southern part of the county.

    In addition to the new buildings erected during the period, buildings at Gay and Claytons, once used for white schools, were being utilized for Negro education.  In 1939-1940, the County School Board had plans for new Negro buildings at Muddy Fork and Livy Neck.

    Visible Results

    The school census taken in Isle of Wight County in 1935 indicated a great growth in the literacy of school-age children.  In the school census of 1885 (fifty years before), the figures showed that forty percent of the white children (7-21 age group) could not read, and that fifty-one percent of the Negro children of the same ages were illiterate.  In the 1935 school census, of 2,008 white children, only three were found to be illiterate, a percent of .1.  Of the 2,746 Negroes in the same age group (7-19), 30, or a percentage of 1.1 was found to be illiterate.

    The increasing number of high school graduates in Isle of Wight County from 1917 to 1940 was significant.  In 1917 there was one high school graduate, this one at the Smithfield School.  In 1940 Smithfield graduated 37, Windsor 30, Isle of Wight 6, and Carrsville 20.

    In 1928, the School Board erected the Training School building about a mile south of the town.  Later, a home economics cottage and agricultural building were erected and Home Economics and Agriculture were added to the curriculum.  At Carrsville, a new two-room building was erected on school board property; the Christian Home two-room building was erected on County property; Fair Oaks and Gravel Hill were consolidated into a new building, Lawnes School; the antiquated building at Mitchells was abandoned for the two-teacher new building; the Walnut one-teacher school and the Beales (Shiloh) one-teacher schools were abandoned and consolidated with the two-room old Claytons School, renamed Fair View. The old Macedonia School was supplanted by the county-owned New Hope School.  New schools were built at Carrollton and McClelland.

    By 1935, the roll of colored children in the Isle of Wight schools had jumped to 1920 with a daily average attendance of 1498.  There were forty-one colored teachers.  The whites enrolled 1607 pupils with a daily average attendance of 1409.  For the first time in the history of the Isle of Wight Schools, the Negroes exceeded the whites in attendance.  The schools received $49,670.00 in state and $65,102.00 in local funds. The high school enrollment increased to 483, with 1164 pupils being transported to school. The average salary paid teachers was $700.00. The average high school instruction cost was $56.00, and in elementary schools $14.00.  The number of white schools had been reduced to the four at Smithfield, Windsor, Carrsville and Isle of Wight.  The last one-room school for whites in the County was the Rescue School which was consolidated with Smithfield in 1936.

    In 1932, a six-room building with a gymnasium was erected at the Smithfield School and a two-room addition was made to the Carrsville School. The old school building still standing at Isle of Wight School was renovated, affording needed space for Agriculture and Home Economics at that school; the change at Windsor provided additional rooms for that school.

    The Golden Years of Isle of Wight Public Education

    The years between1941-1961 may be termed the Golden Years of Public Education in Isle of Wight County.  The first ten years of the period were almost uneventful.  The School Board was gradually adding to some of the Negro schools.  In 1949, the people of the county voted on a $250,000 bond issue for the improvements to the Georgia Tyler School, the Training School and the Camptown School.  This was quite an ambitious program, especially for a county in the "black belt" of Virginia. The voters of the County easily carried the issue to a successful conclusion, and the School Board had the contemplated improvements made in the three larger Negro schools.  A modern agriculture building was also erected at Smithfield High School that year.

    Negro Transportation

    In 1940-1941, the Isle of Wight County schools were operating one Negro bus.  This bus had been purchased by the Negroes in the southern part of the County to transport high school pupils to the Training School.  When difficulties arose as to qualifying a driver and securing proper insurance on the bus, the Negro patrons asked the School Board to take over the bus.  The Board agreed to do this and gradually added to the number of buses for colored pupils, increasing the numbers to 5, 12, 17, and finally to 25 at five year intervals to the same number of white buses in 1960-1961.

    The Evolution of the Westside School

    In the 1871-1880 period, Negro schools were established in the Smithfield area at Smithfield, at Carroll's Shop, (Carrollton), one at Banks, one in the neighborhood of Col. Dardens, in the vicinity of the present Orbit, Gravel Hill (Rushmere), and at Baileys Chapel.  In the 1924-1925 period, these Negro schools were in the Westside area:  Christian Home, Muddy Fork, Rising Star, Macedonia, Riverview (Smithfield), Livy Neck, Gravel Hill, Fair Oaks, Godwins, McClelland, Sandy Mount, Ebenezer, Davis Hall, Oak Grove, and Trinity.  By 1940-1941, the schools for Negroes in this area were Christian Home, Bridger (succeeding Muddy Fork), Moon (succeeding Rising Star), Training School (succeeding Riverview), Livy Neck, Lawnes (replacing Fair Oaks and Gravel Hill), Ebenezer, Trinity and Moon.  Christian Home and Ebenezer were later consolidated with the Training School.

    Evolution of the Georgie Tyler School

    The Georgie Tyler School, built in 1949, was subsequently added to and became the second accredited Negro high school.  It was named after the veteran supervisor of Negro Schools who retired prior to its building.  This school was made up from the first Negro schools at Dardens, Windsor and the schools of the 1924-1925 session at Windsor, Mitchells, Gay, Holly Grove, Beales, Walnut Grove, Central Hill, Eleys and Shiloh.

    Evolution of the Hardy School

    The Hardy School was built in 1960-1961 and was made up the Bridger School (once the Muddy Fork School), the Carrollton Colored School, the New Hope School, which had already been consolidated with the Training School, the Trinity School and the Lawnes School.

    The Isle of Wight County schools today are the fruition or the desires of the earliest white inhabitants of the County.  In 1661 the Reverend Roger Greene expressed the want of schools, that the numerous generations of Christian children might become serviceable in the work of the church and state.  The seeds to satisfy these needs were planted by such early Isle of Wight citizens as Benjamin Syms, Captain John Moon, Henry King and Elizabeth Smith.  Hundreds of others realized the need for education and provided in their wills or through their incomes for the schooling of their children.


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