A significant segment of the Durant Collection captures the educational experience of African Americans in the Williamsburg area between the late 1930s and the 1950s. Two major segregated school facilities, James City County Training School and Bruton Heights School, are well documented in images of classrooms showing students and faculty; snapshots taken during sporting events, performances, and student social events; and graduation photos.
Between 1924 and 1940, James City County Training School educated students from first to eleventh grade in what was once a thriving African American neighborhood at the corner of North Botetourt and East Nicholson Streets. Attracted by the job opportunities that the restoration of the Historic Area created, African Americans lived in the area where Mount Ararat Baptist Church and the administrative offices of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation on Franklin Street now stand. James City County Training School’s high school offered vocational training and teacher training, and students traveled considerable distances to attend classes.
Bruton Heights School, funded in part by the Rockefeller family, provided a new and improved facility for African American education just outside of Colonial Williamsburg’s restored Historic Area. Opened in 1940, Bruton Heights was intended to be more than a replacement for James City County Training School. In addition to providing expanded classroom space and academic subjects taught at the college preparatory level in high school, Bruton Heights was a community center, too, with adult education classes, a health clinic, a movie theater, and a library. During World War II, the school doubled as a USO welcoming black servicemen. Bruton Heights was racially integrated in 1968 and closed in the 1980s.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, when Durant took the photos displayed in this exhibit, Virginia public schools followed the policy of “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites, as was allowed by the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson. Public schools for blacks were not as well funded, though, as public schools for whites. African American families did a great deal, including paying for supplies, to promote their children’s education and improve their learning environment. Both James City County Training School and Bruton Heights School are testaments to their efforts.
Rawls Byrd, History of Public Schools in Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.: privately printed, 1968).
Philip D. Morgan, Black Education in Williamsburg-James City County, 1619–1984 (The Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1985).
Will Molineux, “The White City,” in Colonial Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Va.: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, forthcoming).
Linda H. Rowe, “African Americans in Williamsburg, 1865–1945,” in Williamsburg, Virginia: A City Before the State, ed. Robert P. Maccubbin (Williamsburg, Va.: City of Williamsburg, Va., 2000), 121–35.
Linda H. Rowe, “A History of Black Education and Bruton Heights School, Williamsburg, Virginia.” Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Research Report Series, No. 373. Williamsburg, Va., 2000.