Early African-American Schools in Southwest Virginia ...

The first public schools for children in Wise County started in 1858. Most children, however, did not attend the schools. The children were needed at home to help with the younger children, and help on the farms. It was not until the early 1920's, when the importance of education was realized, that the enrollment for public schools increased.

The idea of educating the African American population of Southwest Virginia was not a reality until the 1930's, and then it was not through the public schools. Elementary age children, as well as high school teenagers were crowded together in the community churches of the coal camps for school. The churches were converted to school rooms during the week, and re-straightened for Sunday services. To the African American population, the priority of a formal education for their children was very important.

New ideas were slowly accepted by those in authority about public schools for the African American students. The idea of building a school really began to happen during the year of 1937.

EDUCATION FOR ELEMENTARY CHILDREN

Most of the younger children were still educated in the churches of the coal camps. The children from the town of Appalachia went to the Macedonia Baptist Church. In the 1930's, children were bused to the Big Stone Gap Primary School on Hamblin Street. Grades 1-9 were taught at the school. There was one big room that was divided in half for the 8th and 9th grades. Mr. Thaddeus Hill was the only teacher of the higher grades. He taught science, history, reading, algebra, English, literature, biology and Latin. For the students of the more affluent families, they were able to go away to boarding school to complete their high school education.

 

APPALACHIA TRAINING SCHOOL

In 1937, a small building consisting of two rooms was erected on the outskirts of the town of Appalachia. It was located approximately 150 yards west of the Church of God that is presently on Callahan Avenue in Appalachia. The doors of the building were open to the community children in the fall of 1938. Two additional rooms were later added.

At that time, the school was named "The Appalachia Training School" by a local minister. In 1939, the idea of consolidation of all African American high school students started to be implemented. During the time, it was felt that the name of the school should be changed. Many thought the word "Training" made it sound as if the school was a vocational school instead of a high school.

 

CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL

The name, Central High School, was suggested by C. H. Shorter, principal of the Appalachia Training School. The name change alone seemed to boost the community and helped to end the confusion about the type of school. During the first few years of the schools existence, students were brought from various communities in private cars. A small fund was set aside by the school board to reimburse the drivers. In 1940, a privately-owned bus was used to transport the "Car-pooled" students.

By this time, the program of a consolidated school was taking shape. The elementary pupils were now being transported to Big Stone Gap, a twin town about 3 miles away. The high school pupils of that town were brought to Appalachia. Teachers of the school taught many classes and put in many long hours. Many commented that they would do whatever needed to be done to be successful. The next improvement was made when a unit of books were purchased to start a library. Then the faculty introduced football as an extra curriculum activity.

While the building was not made of the best materials, the teachers and pupils made the best of the circumstances. It was apparent by 1952, that a bigger and better facility would have to be built.

 

BLAND HIGH SCHOOL

In May of 1954, the new $300,000 James A. Bland High School for Wise County African American Students was started at Big Stone Gap. Bland High School was located where the Big Stone Gap Town Hall is presently located on Fifth Street.

The African American high school students attended Bland High School until the early 1960's when all American schools were integrated. At that time, the Bland School was changed to Carnes Middle School, named for Rexall H. Carnes, a teacher and coach for Bland.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SCHOOLS

Appalachia Training High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: None

Central High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: Football & Cheerleading

Bland High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: Football, Basketball, Cheerleading, Baseball

 

A Special Thanks ...

The Southwest Virginia Museum would like to thank Jessie Zander for her willingness to share important information with us. We would also like to thank Dot Saunders, Richard Lomax, Illinois Mitchell, Sheila Pinkston, Reba Brooks, and Juanita Hale for their assistance with the history of the schools, as well as Peggy Griffin, Lewis Grover, Vivian Long Varner, Emma M. Flannagan, Edna Washington Spinner, and Emmanuel Reasor, Jr. for loaning the museum many photographs and other items which were displayed during our 1999 exhibit.

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The Southwest Virginia Museum is a member of the American
Association of Museums, the American Association of State and Local History, and the Virginia Association of Museums.


GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SCHOOLS

 

Appalachia Training High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: None

Central High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: Football & Cheerleading

Bland High School
Colors: Blue & Gold
Mascot: Buffalo
Athletics: Football, Basketball, Cheerleading, Baseball

 

 

A Special Thanks ...

 

The Southwest Virginia Museum would like to thank Jessie Zander for her willingness to share important information with us. We would also like to thank Dot Saunders, Richard Lomax, Illinois Mitchell, Sheila Pinkston, Reba Brooks, and Juanita Hale for their assistance with the history of the schools, as well as Peggy Griffin, Lewis Grover, Vivian Long Varner, Emma M. Flannagan, Edna Washington Spinner, and Emmanuel Reasor, Jr. for loaning the museum many photographs and other items which were displayed during our 1999 exhibit.