Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia | healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com

The Lost History Of Jefferson School. Tuesday May 9, 2017.

A decade ago, the lost history of Jefferson School was the 1865 origins. Today the lost history is that local media were suppressing this history for at least a decade. When the school closed in 2002, everyone thought it had started in 1926. After an archaeology dig in the parking lot, the date was pushed back to 1894.

When my first essay on Jefferson School appeared in The Observer, research told me about the 1865 date. But I didn't include it. I didn't know the history was being suppressed. So I started sending emails, writing blog posts, and delivering speeches at City Hall. Other speakers echoed my research. Still in July 2007 The Daily Progress declined to print a letter because it was "fact-based." So I read it at City Council a few days later.

Who all knew about 1865 Jefferson School on West Main? Historical Society knew in a 1976 book and 2006 magazine 30-page story. The National Park Service knew since the 1980s when the school was designated historic. It's listed in the Virginia and National Register of Historic Places. The assistant City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said she knew in 2007 at a meeting of Historical Society at First Baptist Church site of the first classes 1865. But she told the public 1894 when Jefferson School moved to Vinegar Hill.

At that meeting the UVA Carter G. Woodson Institute, Scot French and Lu-Anne Williams, promised to digitize and publish the Urban Renewal, Housing Authority Archives. But they only did a report on Vinegar Hill. City Council is suppressing this history right now so the public won't know the history of current redevelopment plans like Strategic Investment Area– known as Garrett Street urban renewal in newspaper archives.

All the local media knew. But they consistently reported later dates. Finally in 2010 The Hook reported 1865 from the Historic Register. A week later Fred Dove of the Historical Society brought the real history to Schilling Show listeners after a reporter ignored him and Daily Progress refused to print his letter. In 2012, after the Jefferson School committee reported the 1865 origins, The Daily Progress echoed the dates as if it was not a correction to its own reporting.

Today the question is whether Jefferson School is sustainable as a historic landmark. Are tenants willing to pay above market-rate to remain in an old place when the subsidies end? Or have we only delayed the bulldozer?

Fortunately history is not a thing or place. It's the story we tell about the past.

"City looks to sustain struggling Jefferson School site" by Chris Suarez, Feb. 4, 2017, Daily Progress.

Some concerns about the future of the Jefferson School City Center were allayed last week after the Charlottesville City Council directed staff to provide nearly $1 million to help stabilize one of the two anchor tenants in the historic building that re-opened as a multi-purpose civic center in 2013.

As proposed by Councilor Wes Bellamy, per requests from Jefferson School directors and associates, the city is expected to provide $950,000 to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which opened four years ago following an $18 million renovation project of the former all-black high school that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite the belief that the city eventually would buy back the building, the city center, which the city transferred to a private partnership in 2011 so that it could leverage almost $6 million in federal and state tax credits, will remain in private hands.
[...]
When the rehabilitation project started around 2010, the city sold the building to the partnership for approximately $100,000. The city then provided nearly $6 million for the project. The tax credits helped pay for approximately a third of the project, but a loan of about $7 million was needed to complete it. Last year, the partnership began working with the bank to refinance the loan, but assuring the bank that enough revenue will be generated to pay the loan off in the coming years has been difficult.

"Jefferson School: Ready for its closeup after $18 million rehab" by Lisa Provence, Dec 11th, 2012, The Hook.

When classes ceased in the historic Jefferson School about 10 years ago, the discussion began about what to do with the structure on 4th and Commerce streets that is an important educational resource for generations of African-American families.

Once a plan was established, the private partnership assigned to make it happen still had to find the money to secure a loan for the school's $18-million makeover.

Ground finally broke in August 2011, and more than a year later, on December 11, [2012] the ribbon was cut on a shiny and bright Jefferson School City Center.

"Historical Society: Jefferson School 1865" by Blair Hawkins, Aug. 17, 2010.

In contrast to a decade of news reporting, Fred Dove set the record straight today on the Schilling Show. (Podcast of First Hour Aug 17, 2010) Dove is a board member of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and seventh generation native of Charlottesville.

"2007: The Jefferson School Rule" by Blair Hawkins, Jan. 5, 2008. Timeline of stories and quotes.

On July 12, The Daily Progress policy to allow only opinion-based letters was discovered when I wrote a letter to correct a July 6 article giving 1894 as the original date of Jefferson School, instead of 1865. Over the phone, Editorial Page Editor Anita Shelburne said she had not decided whether to print the letter because it’s “fact-based.”

“Origins of Jefferson School and Public Education in Virginia” by Blair Hawkins, Dec. 4, 2006. Excerpts pages 230 to 234 in Albemarle: Jefferson’s County, 1727-1976. John Hammond Moore, 1976. The Albemarle County Historical Society.

Freedmen’s schools were launched in the fall of 1865 with the arrival in Charlottesville of a Yankee schoolmarm, Anna Gardner. These schools were financed mainly by the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society with some assistance from local citizens of both races.

“Jefferson School: The Original Model for Public Education in Virginia” by Blair Hawkins, July 16, 2007. Letter to the editor delivered as speech before City Council and copies handed out at meeting.

The legacy of Jefferson School is every public school in Virginia today. Your article (“City mindful of preserving legacy” by Seth Rosen. The Daily Progress. Jul. 6, 2007) traces the history to 1894 and says the Jefferson Alumni Association wants to preserve the legacy of the all-black school as a social hub of Vinegar Hill in the 1950s.

"Newspaper suppresses Jefferson School history" by Blair Hawkins, Apr.12, 2010. Includes photos of 1926 and 1894 school building and modern location of 1865, 1866, and 1869 school building.

Today’s Daily Progress updates the redevelopment and preservation of the traditionally all-black Jefferson School. The front-page article repeats, almost verbatim, the historical myth of a controversial 2007 article.

Register of Historic Places, Aug. 15, 2005. pdf 800K.

"Jefferson School History." Jefferson City Center.

Newspaper articles.

Benjamin Tonsler attended the first classes 1865 at Jefferson School. He returned as a teacher 1871 and became principal 1883 until his death 1917.


Blair Hawkins | Charlottesville, Virginia | healingcharlottesville@yahoo.com | Résumé | Top