The Clifton Forge Public Library is pleased to feature its Black History Month exhibit, “Celebrating the History of Jefferson High School.”
In the late 1800s, the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad system brought an influx of black laborers to the Clifton Forge area. This necessitated the opening of a public school for the black students. A one-room schoolhouse was built on the south side of Verge Street in Clifton Forge and this became the forerunner of the Jefferson School. As the population grew, a two-room structure was built on Church Street for the children in the eastern part of the city, and the Verge Street School was still maintained. Eventually, the two schools consolidated.
In 1902, a five-room brick building was built on the site of the two-room school. During this time the two-year high school was accredited and Jefferson was adopted as the school name.
In 1926, a two-story brick structure was constructed on Church and A Streets. This building still stands and was referred to as the “Old Building” after an annex to the building was completed in 1952, becoming the elementary school. It included more classrooms, an administrative office, industrial arts shop and an auditorium/gymnasium.
In the fall of 1965, the schools in the city of Clifton Forge were integrated. Jefferson School became Clifton Forge East Elementary School and the high school students were transferred to Clifton Forge High School.
Retired teacher, Ettrula Moore, who provided the history of the school, says, “Educators with degrees from historically black colleges and universities, parents and community, played an integral and vital role in the education of the students and in equipping them for their future. These students became productive and successful citizens in communities throughout the United States and abroad.”
The Rev. Dr. Roslyn Thomas, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Clifton Forge, after gathering information from alumnus Ione Callender, was instrumental in having the Historical Jefferson School placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register on June 21, 2012, and the National Register of Historic Places on August 12, 2012.
“We are very proud,” Ms. Callender says, “of the historic designation by the Federal Government and the Virginia State designation. The school was a success because of the community support, teachers and parents. A number of our students went on to have successful careers.”
Local historians Ettrula Moore and Ione Callender compiled the information for the Black History Month Exhibit. The display features Jefferson School Memorabilia and includes yearbooks, the one-hundred-year-old 1924 commencement program, class pictures, and megaphone.
The megaphone, a new addition, followed a circuitous route to the historic collection. Andrew Williams, a local resident, was remodeling a home on C Street. Among the many antiques left in the house was the megaphone. “It looked unusual so I grabbed it,” he said. “I thought it was worth saving because it appeared to be used for games by cheerleaders pumping up the crowd.”
He continued, “I thought there must be some significance to it since the person had kept it.”
Mr. Williams talked with various people over the course of a year with no breakthrough as to its source. One day, coming in the library, he noticed a pompom displayed with other local memorabilia. “It stirred my mind,” he said, “that maybe the library collects artifacts with some significant history about the town, or perhaps would know who to ask, or would have more connections with the schools, so I brought it to the library.”
So ended his search for information. Library Assistant Donnie Buzzard recognized it as potentially being from the Historical Jefferson School. Ettrula Moore, quite touched to see this artifact, readily identified it and gave it to Ione Callender who is the current keeper of the Jefferson School memorabilia.
In learning the history of the megaphone’s year-long journey and Mr. Williams persistence in solving the mystery, Mrs. Moore said, “The megaphone is another factual link to the storied past of the Historical Jefferson School. This is a very exciting find given to the Clifton Forge Public Library staff who in turn graciously bequeathed it to the School’s treasured memorabilia.”
Ettrula continues, “From high-energy pep rallies to athletic events, this megaphone helped to carry voices of courage, victory and change for the journey of the Historical Jefferson High School. It brings back memories of some of the words to the Victory Song: ‘O when the Jefferson Dragons fall in line . . .’”
She concludes, “The Historical Jefferson School Alumni and the community are deeply appreciative to Mr. Williams and to the Clifton Forge Public Library staff for such a compelling keepsake that once again shares the narrative of the past.”
“We have tried,” Ms. Callender adds, “to keep the legacy alive so that future generations can know and appreciate the people who came before them.” She continues, “We have tried to obtain memorabilia so that we can display it, hopefully in the first Jefferson High School building on Church Street. We would love to have more pictures, trophies, and newspaper articles about the successes of our alumni, and any items that are memorable.”
“I have been the self-appointed historian for Dear Old Jefferson,” Ione says. “If you have pictures and news articles, I can scan them and return the originals to you. We have been blessed to get an old megaphone from a gentleman who found it and reached out to get it to an alumnus, even though he was not a student of Jefferson. What a kindness!”
Ms. Callender concludes, “Now it’s time for others to participate and keep the legacy alive! I can be reached at 540-968-2797 or by mail at 42 Verge Street, Clifton Forge, VA 24422. I look forward to hearing from all.”
“Celebrating the History of Jefferson High School” will be on display at the Clifton Forge Public Library throughout February.
The Library is located at 535 Church Street. For information on any library programs or activities, phone 863-2519.
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