The first public schools for children in Wise County
started in 1858. Most children, however, did not
attend the schools. The older children were needed at home
to help with the younger children and help on the
farms. It was not until the early 1920s, when the
importance of education was realized and compulsory attendance laws were passed, that the
enrollment for public schools increased.
The idea of educating African Americans in far Southwest Virginia was not a reality
until the 1930s, when African American community leaders established schools in local churches. Elementary age children, as well as
high school teenagers, gathered 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
New ideas were
slowly accepted by those in authority about public
schools for African American students. The idea
of building a school really began to take shape during
the year of 1937.
EDUCATION FOR ELEMENTARY
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 1930s, children were bussed 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. The students of the more affluent
families were able to travel to boarding
school to complete their high school education.
APPALACHIA TRAINING SCHOOL
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 the town. The doors of the building were open
to the community children in the fall of 1938. Two
additional rooms were later added.
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, as 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
school's 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.
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 was purchased to start a
library. Then, the faculty introduced football as an
extra curricular 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
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 1960s 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
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE SCHOOLS
Appalachia Training High School
Blue & Gold
Blue & Gold
Athletics: Football & Cheerleading
Blue & Gold
Athletics: Football, Basketball, Cheerleading,
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.