Earliest Known Public High School for African Americans in Virginia

Earliest Known Public High School for African Americans in Virginia (HMHA1)

Location: Petersburg, VA 23803
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Country: United States of America
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N 37° 13.314', W 77° 24.177'

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Petersburg, Virginia

Petersburg established a public school system in 1868, two years before the state's mandate. Colored Elementary School #1 was conducted in the old church building of the African Baptist Church, which stood to your left. The building had been moved to this site in the 1830s from Bolling's Hill, where it had served in the 1820s both as a church and as one of the earliest organized schools for African Americans in Petersburg. A second story was constructed within the building designed to accommodate the opening in January 1870 of a Colored high School. This was reputedly the first African-American public high school in the state. Maj. Giles B. Cooke, who acted as Lee's staff officer during the siege of Petersburg, served as principal.

By 1874, this school had so expanded as to require the construction of a new building in the space in front of you, facing Fillmore, still accommodating both the elementary and high school. Since both schools had been funded using George Peabody Fund money, the new school was called the Peabody School. As a result of repeated petitions by the Rev. Henry Williams of Gillfield Baptist Church and others, African Americans were appointed as administrators and teachers in the African-American schools in Petersburg for the first time during the 1882-83 school year. The first of these appointments was Alfred Pryor as Principal of Peabody School.

Due to Peabody School's growing inadequacies, the school was moved to a substantially larger new building on Jones Street in 1920. For several years the old building served as an armory, and was then demolished to make way for the new Anna Bolling Junior High School for white students, which opened in the present building in 1926. Court-ordered integration in 1971 led to the closing of Anna Bolling, which now houses apartments for the elderly.

(Above) In 1870, the Old African Church was renovated and housed both an elementary school and the first public high school for African Americans in Virginia.

(Left) Major Giles B. Cooke, the first principal of the Number One elementary School and the Colored Public High School, 1868-1871.

(Above Right) Walter C. Holmes (1884-1963) graduated from Peabody High School in 1901. He is pictured wearing his graduation pin. His father, James Meredith Bolling Holmes (1844-1923) was the first black letter carrier in Petersburg.

Church Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church, Harrison Street. Photo of Walter C. Holmes courtesy of Nathaniel Dance. Photo of Major Cooke courtesy of Elsa Verbyla.
HM NumberHMHA1
Marker Number12_MARKER_NU
Placed ByCivil Rights in Education Heritage Trail?
Marker Condition
6 out of 10 (3 reports)
Date Added Saturday, October 25th, 2014 at 8:27pm PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18S E 286800 N 4122194
Decimal Degrees37.22190000, -77.40295000
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 37° 13.314', W 77° 24.177'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds37° 13' 18.84" N, 77° 24' 10.62" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)804, 434, 757
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 325-399 Harrison St, Petersburg VA 23803, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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I Saw The Marker

I went to Peabody. I wish you guys had pictures but it was nice reading about my school. Thanks

Feb 26, 2015 at 7:23pm PST by loretta

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