On the playground of Clark Elementary School, children of various backgrounds and ethnicities ran and played, unbothered by a light drizzle on a muggy late summer afternoon; meanwhile, a group gathered by the garden on the edge of the playground to celebrate Charlottesville Twelve Day.
The day is celebrated to mark the day when 12 young Black students became the first to attend Charlottesville City schools on Sept. 7, 1959, despite the “massive resistance” strategy to block the desegregation of public schools.
One of those students was seven-year-old Charles Alexander, also known as Alex-Zan. Today, Alex-Zan is an award-winning advocate, author and educator.
“Although I am a trailblazer,” he said to a handful of students at Thursday’s ceremony, “one of the points I emphasize to students is for you to become a trailblazer. I’m known, but guess what, I want you to be known.”
Those students, who were fourth graders in Linda Humphries’ class at Clark Elementary School last spring, came to read letters they had written to the Charlottesville Twelve. They talked about what they had learned in class and expressed their gratitude for what the Twelve had done.
“Because of what you did I can now have Black and white friends,” read 10-year-old Javione Wilson. “I am super grateful.”
After hearing what the students had written, Alex-Zan brought them into the garden to show them a sundial inscribed with the names of the Charlottesville Twelve. The sundial was designed by interns at the organization Cultivate Charlottesville, which advocates for food justice in the community. Replicas of the sundial will be placed at every Charlottesville public school.
The event came to a close with a thank you by Aleen Carey, the outreach and Resource Program Director at Cultivate Charlottesville, who hopes that Charlottesville City Council will release an official proclamation that recognizes September 8 as Charlottesville Twelve Day.