At our City Council meeting tomorrow night (Monday, Aug. 6), we will be taking a big step forward in the revitalization of Jefferson School. It's been a long time coming. Assuming Council approves conveyance of the property to the non-profit partnership that has been established to renovate and redevelop the historic building, Jefferson School will be on its way to reclaiming a new life as a cultural, educational and recreational center. If you're not aware of the importance of this historical landmark to our community (and to our African-American community in particular), the City has some good info. up on its website.
Pardon me a brief digression. In all my years of collecting postcards, in which time I have probably seen over 1,200 different images of life in Cville, I have never come across a single postcard image that features, in any prominent way, a building or business or church or school or park or neighborhood "belonging" to Charlottesville's African-American community. You do see local African-Americans pictured as maids:
Village Cabins, circa 1940
And as waiters:
Michie Tavern, circa 1960
And as servants from Mr. Jefferson's day:
Monticello, circa 1960
Meanwhile, the closest I've come to finding a good postcard image of Jefferson School is the one below (circa 1981). If you squint your eyes and look real close, you can see the school in the top center of the photo. And that's only because the Omni hadn't been built yet.
Why did I feel compelled to digress so? It's because the teachers at Jefferson School taught their charges that they did not have to grow up to be maids, waiters or servants. Many graduates of Jefferson School went on to become teachers, doctors, librarians, police officers, social workers, and other distinguished professionals. Of the 32 African-Americans who graduated from Jefferson High School in 1936, according to this history of the school, 23 went on to college. In 1936! We need to tell Jefferson's story. We need to reclaim Jefferson's history. And we need to learn from Jefferson's successes and apply them in our school system today. We cannot let Jefferson School be but a small blur in Charlottesville's background any longer.