Subsequent Educational and Professional Attainment of Black and White Students from Two Segregated Schools

Article excerpt

This is a documentary and ethnohistorical study of two segregated one-room schools that existed in the 1930s and 1940s in a mountain community in Virginia. This paper documents the higher educational and professional attainment of the students from the Black school compared to those from the White school. The inferior educational opportunities available to the Black students were offset in some measure by the values of their immediate community. The paper examines the powerful effects of community expectations and values on the life paths of its students. While focusing historically, this study has implications for today's schools in pointing to the critical role of the community in the success of a school.

Separated by custom and law, the two races remain bound together by the inextricable web of the social and economic order of which they are a part. In a study of this kind, therefore, it is as impossible to speak only of schools for Negro children, as though they were an isolated phenomenon that could be excised from the body social for study at any convenient time, as it would be to trace the natural history of an organ of the human body without reference to the larger whole. (Bond, 1934/1966, p. 287)

Writing in the same time period in which this article focuses, Bond emphasizes the importance of examining the education of Black students in the larger context of their society, the "body social." In an effort to follow Bond's admonition, this study examines the elementary and subsequent life experiences of all the students, Black and White, in one small mountain community in rural Virginia during the 1930s and 1940s. Due to segregation, there were two one-room grade schools for grades 1-8. Both schools served the same general locality, although the children attending Sweet Hollow White School (also referred to in this article as the White school)' were drawn exclusively from homes on nearby mountains and in a narrow mountain valley, referred to as a "hollow," whereas most of the children attending Tedley Hall Colored School (also referred to in this paper as the Black school) came from the more open and accessible land at the mouth of the hollow. In the 1930s there were no bridges in the hollow except footbridges. Until late in the 1940s, horses, automobiles, and trucks had to ford the river at least three times going up the hollow to the Sweet Hollow White School. The Tedley Hall Colored School sat at the mouth of the hollow, near fields of orchards. Tedley Hall was at the intersection of dirt roads coming from several hollows and of two gravel roads coming from larger towns. The nearest small city was 20 miles away and in another direction six miles away was a railroad town where apples were packed for shipping.

Due to their isolation, residents of this rural community comprised most of the web of social and economic influences in the body social for their students in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of this isolation, these two schools provide a good setting for a study of the effects of the body social-Black and White communities within a segregated society-- on the education of Black and White students.

Due to segregation, the Black and White communities existed in the same geographic location but for the most part operated separately from each other, especially in education, a characteristic that is consistent with other studies noted by Siddle Walker (2000). Siddle Walker in her metastudy of segregated education for Black children in the South from 1935-1969, aggregates rural and urban education since their overall experiences were similar. During de jure segregated education, Siddle Walker notes that schools for Blacks in the South were unequal to those for Whites in terms of such factors as funding, facilities, materials, and length of school terms. Segregation produced a "closed system where school members and community members interacted in a number of settings and where school and community values reflected the beliefs of the other, the schools . …