His­toric black school’s makeover cel­e­brated early

Van­dals’ racist at­tack at Ash­burn site drew funds and help­ing hands

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY DEB­BIE TRUONG deb­bie.truong@wash­post.com

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.”

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST

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.

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