Historic black school’s makeover celebrated early
Vandals’ racist attack at Ashburn site drew funds and helping hands
A faint scar runs from the edge of Louise Winzor’s nose and fades into her cheek.
The mark was left decades ago, when Winzor, now 73, was accidentally struck by a nail attached to a piece of wood she and her classmates at the Ashburn Colored School had fashioned into a makeshift bat for a softball game.
“When we had recess, we would go in the back where the outhouse was. We didn’t have any bats . . . . The only thing we had was pieces of wood, rusty wood with rusty nails in it,” she recalled.
On Saturday, Winzor was among those gathered for a ceremony marking the rehabilitation of the single-room schoolhouse that she, as a 5-year-old, walked 90 minutes to and from because “there was no bus for the black kids during that time.”
It was a renewal that seemed remote less than a year ago, when a group of teenage vandals spraypainted swastikas, the words “WHITE POWER” and vulgar images on the easily missed school on a small piece of land along a sidewalk-less road in Loudoun County.
At the time the building was vandalized, students at the Loudoun School for the Gifted had already done more than a year of fundraising to try to restore it. They planned to make renovations incrementally over a period of years.
But thousands of dollars in donations poured in from near and far after the Oct. 1 vandalism, accelerating the restoration effort, said Deep Sran, founder of the School for the Gifted.
“The speed and nature of the community’s response was breathtaking,” Sran said. “There was so much unity.”
The fruits of that response were unveiled during a ceremony Saturday at a small field across from the school, which opened around 1892 and closed in the late 1950s. It housed as many as 50 students in several grade levels at a time.
The schoolhouse came to be a reminder of Virginia’s racially segregated history, in which schools for black children received less money and few resources.
Sran said the building was renovated to look as it did a century ago: 200-year-old wood was fitted throughout the building. A stucco surface was used for the dry wall, and the windows were modeled to resemble the originals, he said.
A historical marker installed this year, the effort of seventhgraders at Farmwell Station Middle School, stands to the side of entrance.
The school, Sran said, recalls a divided, divisive time. But it also evokes “the sense of a real optimism and love that’s ultimately prevailed over time.”
Alfonso J. Harrod, whose older sister, Lola Jackson, taught at the school for 40 years, said his sister would wake at 6 a.m. daily to catch a train from the District, then a bus, to reach the school.
She spent her own money on supplies and, in the winter, arrived earlier so she could build a fire in the school’s potbelly stove to warm the children when they got to class. When snow fell, she wrapped corn sacks around her shoes to keep out the cold, Harrod said.
“She believed that every child could learn and study and grow, if they had the opportunity,” he said. “And she was determined to give her students the opportunity.”
Yvonne Neal, who graduated in 1945 from the Ashburn Colored School, approaches the front steps in her wheelchair to tour the renovated building Saturday after its rededication at the end of months of renovation. The building was defaced with racist graffiti last year.