A yellow school bus pulled up to the Scrabble School on Friday, Oct. 22. It brought Jennifer Thede’s first grade class from Wakefield Country Day School in Huntly to the Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center. The last time a first grade class came to Scrabble, the year was 1968.
Built in 1921, Scrabble School is just one of more than 5,000 African-American schools built across the South with the help of Julius Rosenwald and Booker T. Washington. So few remain, the National Trust for Historic Preservation lists Rosenwald Schools among America’s “most endangered” places. Scrabble’s Heritage Center, which opened May 1, tells the story of the historic Rosenwald School as an example of the segregation African-Americans endured during the Jim Crow era.
Thede’s class already knew that Scrabble School was where African-American children attended classes “a long time ago.” Heritage Center staff member Susanna Spencer (also the Librarian at Wakefield), told the first graders about school days at Scrabble with stories related by Scrabble School alumni. Several children tried out the antique desks as the class compared an old lunch box and hand-held slate to their modern equivalents. Substitute pizza and ice cream, and the Wakefield students also completely understood the enthusiasm Scrabble students had for special days, such as “soup day” and “ice cream day.”
The visitors to history had questions about the school’s teachers, the playground, and the old school books that were on display. Spencer and Thede talked about the “story wall” that illustrates the Scrabble School story in pictures and words and students experimented with the interactive computer that features alumni describing what it was like to go to school at Scrabble. The two teachers had to remind the youngsters that the people on the screen used to be little, too. The field trip back in time ended with the first-graders thanking Spencer for telling and showing how it was going to school “way back then,” when it wasn’t like it is today.
The Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center is sponsored by the Scrabble School Preservation Foundation. It shares the school with the Rappahannock Senior Center at Scrabble School, which is open 10 to 2 Monday-Thursday. To arrange an educational program or tour, call 540-987-8504 or 540-987-3836.
Scrabble School is located south of Woodville at the intersection of U.S. 522 and Route 626 (Scrabble Road). For more information and to see a virtual tour, visit scrabbleschool.org.