AARP Virginia’s volunteer Sharon Boyd brought the 5th Annual Celebration of Black History Program to the Celebrate Community in Fredericksburg, VA on Feb. 29.
It was a profound and joyous celebration of African-American achievement and success in the face of historically vicious and determent reaction against Reconstruction after the Civil War. The theme of the program was “What Legacy Will You Leave?” The program was attended by people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. That is part of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Boyd has been a resident of the Celebrate Community since 2009. The Celebrate Community is in itself something to celebrate. It is an intentional community for economically advantaged persons 55 years of age and better. It is located a reasonable commuting distance from our nation's Capital in Stafford County Virginia. The program was held in the sumptuously appointed ballroom of the community’s clubhouse. That African-Americans are proportionately represented in the architecturally beautiful and “whole person” affirming Celebrate Community is a victory worthy of celebration all by itself.
The core for Boyd in presenting the Black History Program to the Celebrate Community is to educate and empower the community with the history and spirit of our African American culture. In essence, the heartbeat of the program is the faithful support of the community residents, local vendors, family, and friends. Boyd is grateful that these key constituents shared their time, talent, skills, and resources; all for community and family connection.
The keynote Speaker, Dr. David White, is superintendent of King William County Schools. He has deep family roots in Stafford County. White outlined and personalized the historic denial of educational opportunities that were the bedrock of the racial oppression that African-Americans endured, especially south of the Mason-Dixson line. White’s career is a meaningful climax to his family’s and community’s struggle for equality of educational opportunity. Here are some excerpts from White’s speech:
”As many of us learned in our history classes, Blacks were prohibited from learning to read or write through the passing of anti-literacy laws in slave states before and during the American Civil War. And just to give some perspective, the United States is the only country known to have had such legislation. However, some slaves did become literate through sympathetic adults who didn’t agree with these laws and others who learned to memorize and recognize words and letters from the Bible. And Stafford was no different.”
After the Civil War, those Blacks that did not flee the North for industry jobs and the presumptive promise of a better life knew that literacy and the attainment of knowledge were keys to survival in a ”quote-unquote” free world. Having no Black schools to provide them and their children with an education, many turned to their local churches to learn how to read and write. These churches, with the help of white men and women who came south to teach, became the precursor to the first black schools in Stafford County.”
”Up until 193,8 the highest education that a Black child could attain in Stafford County was through the 7th grade. As for white children in the county, those students had access to two accredited high schools.”
”In 1935, a coalition of Black parents went to the School Board to petition for a high school to serve the Black students in the county, but they were summarily rebuffed due to lack of funds. Not willing to take “no” for an answer, the parents, under the direction Mr. H.H. Poole formed a County League in collaboration with the Black churches in the area to raise the money to buy land which they could gift to the County to build a Black high school. With the money that they raised, they were able to purchase seven acres of land off of Route 1 and next to the Log Cabin Restaurant, which is still in operation today. With the land purchased and gifted, they again went to the school board to ask if they would build a high school for Black students, and again the answer was that the county had no money. However, they reached out to the Work Progress Administration (WPA), a Federal Government Agency, to help build the school. The Stafford Training School for Colored Students was finally opened in 1939.”
”The Stafford County Public Schools were finally integrated in 1961...the first school system in the area to do so.”
Boyd’s celebration of Black History was as broad as it was deep. It included several musical performances. A youth, Spencer Blake, received a standing ovation for his organ rendition of part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. There was an endearing dance performance by the Youth Department of Harvest Life Changes Church, Woodbridge VA. The poetry of Langston Hughes was read by Jayla Hunter a student at Duke Ellington School of Art, Washington D.C. There was an abundance of fellowship among the 220 participants.