School Spirit Survives Segregation

School Spirit Survives Segregation

Black History Month

Pride. Pride for their school and pride for what the black community in Virginia accomplished is what comes up when students of the Douglass High School, the area's last segregated school, discuss their days at the small building.

"I think there was a lot of pride in it because of how it was built. The PTA had to furnish everything," said Mary Randolph who graduated from the school in 1961.

"We had a lot of pride in the school and I think the teachers did, too. It was in really good shape," said Thelma Dodson with her husband, Alvin. The two met at Douglass and graduated in 1955.

Douglass High School was not only the last "Negro school" in the area but also the first. The land for the school was purchased by the ÒSchool League," which was a group of African-American parents. The group then deeded the land to the Loudoun County School Board and ground was broken for the school in 1941.

"Everything that we needed people had to donate. The guys built the shop, the School Board wouldn't give us anything," said Randolph.

"It was open in 1941," said Reginald Simms who graduated in 1955, "but it wasn't run down at all, you could go and eat off the floors, that's how clean it was when I was there."

THE SCHOOL didn't get all the best resources either since most of the textbooks and other school needs were either hand-me downs from family members or the leftovers from white schools and all needed to be bought by the PTA.

"Sometimes it was September or October before we would get the books," said Randolph.

The school was even missing many items like typewriters or science class needs.

"A lot of supplies were missing. Eventually people in the community would get it. People in the black community were very supportive," said Thelma Dodson.

The school's teachers were also supportive of the students and very stern.

"The teachers were strict. If you went in and something happened that was it," said Simms.

"They were strict," agrees Randolph, "The expected you to do stuff. They didn't make it easy on you."

Many of the teachers had to travel great distances to get to the school and board with families during the week then travel home during the weekend.

"We didn't have trouble getting black teachers but sometimes they didn't look any older than we were. We might act up because of that but they put us in our place quick," said Thelma Dodson.

The teachers were not the only ones who were young. The community had to work hard to get people to drive the buses from all the corners of the county.

"My classmate drove the bus from Upperville to Leedsville," said Simms.

THE SOCIAL SCENE at the school was restricted by segregation and the distance needed to travel for many of the students was great. There was no real place for the students to hang out after school and many had to ride the bus in order to be able to get home at all for the night.

"I lived 10 miles from the school. We would practice football after school and then have to hitchhike back. You couldn't go into none of the restaurants and you weren't allowed to use the library so it was hard to get together," said Simms.

"You didn't really hang out because you rode the school bus. There was no place we could hang out back then," Randolph said.

Still the students found ways to get together and have a good time. Other than playing sports with other black schools, the students held dances and met in areas they were allowed in.

"We use to kind of hang out at the school. We had dances at the school to raise funds and there use to be a black-owned restaurant in Leesburg," said Alvin Dodson.

THE SCHOOL ITSELF has been expanded two times once in 1950 when a science lab, five classrooms and a home economics suite was added and once in 1960 when a gym, shop, cafeteria and several more classrooms were built. The school closed as a high school in 1968.

"I guess when it was inevitable integration was coming they built the gym," said Randolph.

Since then the school building has had many roles including the School Board office, a middle school and an annex for Broad Run High School. In 1976 the building started being used for multiple programs including an alternative education high school, a special education center and a community center.

"We became a holding school for a bunch of different programs," said Douglass School's principle Dr. John Robinson. "We started for disruptive kids but it's not that anymore. Kids come because they want to come. We've got traditional high-school programs but they are geared to students who need smaller-class groups."

THE PRIDE has not left the school or it's previous students. The Loudoun Douglass Alumni Association not only keeps the graduates of the school in touch by honoring each class on its 50th anniversary but also helps with many needs in the black community.

"We provide $1,000 scholarships to descendants of the school. Eight every year," said Alvin Dodson, "We also work with the Christmas in April project."

Simms says that it is the school's teachers that made the Alumni Association what it is. "They instilled in us that you should help," he said.

Even with the barriers set by segregation the students at Douglass High School remember their time there fondly.

"I would say the students were like one big family. Everybody got really close," Alvin Dodson said.

"It was only hardship if you didn't go to school. You went through it and you didn't realize what the other schools had so you just went and did your best," Randolph said.

"All in all we thought it was a great experience and helped us succeed in life," Thelma Dodson added.