Black history celebrated at Scrabble School

THE UNITY CHOIR performs one of its uplifting numbers at the Scrabble School’s Black History Celebration last weekend.Brenda Van Ness
THE UNITY CHOIR performs one of its uplifting numbers at the Scrabble School’s Black History Celebration last weekend.

The old school for African-American students at Scrabble came alive once again with music and teaching, laughter and good food when black and white folks filled the building at the second annual Black History Celebration last Saturday (Feb. 11).

The local Unity Choir performed spiritually uplifting songs. Cleo Coleman gave a history lesson about Harriett Tubman helping slaves to freedom in the1860s. Rev. Reginald Greene told of his personal experience as a Freedom Rider in the 1960s. The afternoon concluded with the Heritage Soup Supper prepared by members of the Scrabble School Preservation Foundation, the event’s sponsor.

The crowd sang with the choir and engaged in discussion about the speakers’ talks while enjoying homemade beef stew, vegetable and white bean soups, corn bread and cookies. Winter weather did not diminish the day’s enthusiasm; attendees filled the school rooms. The senior citizens who normally use the building during the week welcomed the visitors and participated in all the activities. Adults and children provided the mixed generational aspect that the foundation and the Senior Center promote for events at Scrabble School.

The backdrop for the celebration was the restored historic Scrabble School building. Built by local African-American residents in 1921 with a grant from the Rosenwald Foundation, the school operated into the late 1960s. It was finally integrated by white students in 1967 for its last year as a school. The building was left as a relic of the past until the early1990s,  when Scrabble alumnus E. Franklin Warner of Castleton started a grassroots movement to restore the building into a place to inform current and future generations about its rich history.

FREEDOM RIDER: One of the event’s speakers, Rev. Reginald Greene, left, was a Freedom Rider; Rappahannock resident Rachel Aylor holds up a photo of Green taken on the day of arrest in 1961.Brenda Van Ness
FREEDOM RIDER: One of the event’s speakers, Rev. Reginald Greene, left, was a Freedom Rider; Rappahannock resident Rachel Aylor holds up a photo of Green taken on the day of arrest in 1961.

The building’s Rappahannock African-American Heritage Center tells the school’s story with memorabilia, posters, interactive video and filmed interviews with former students. Today’s students, aided by Susanna Spencer, the foundation’s program director, can begin to understand the African-American students’ life of long ago. Alumni, visiting after a period of time, are often moved to tears and laughter as they reminisce about their days at Scrabble School. To them, “segregation” and “racism” were only words; they loved and were proud of their school.

The Scrabble School Preservation Foundation continues to preserve and present the history of the local and regional African-American community in such annual programs as the Black History Celebration, May Day and Homecoming.

On April 13, the foundation and the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community will cosponsor author Stephanie Deutsch’s presentation and discussion of her recent book, “You Need a School,” in which Deutsch portrays the coming together of Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald to help build more than 5,000 school buildings in the south for African-American students during the early 1900s.

This “Second Friday at the Library” program is free. For information, visit raac.org or scrabbleschool.org.

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