Alumni, family and supporters gathered on Sunday for the 75th anniversary of George Washington Carver Regional High School, celebrating the perseverance of those who worked to ensure local Black students had access to a quality secondary education prior to integration.
The Orange County jubilee took place at Sweet Vines Farm Winery in Unionville and was the second of four countywide events taking place over the course of a year, culminating with a gala in Culpeper on Oct. 21.
Established in 1948, George Washington Carver Regional High school was the only regional high school in Virginia, serving minority students in Orange, Culpeper, Madison and Rappahannock counties. The school, located in Rapidan along Route 15 in Culpeper County, provided an education to Black youth for the next 20 years during segregation before closing in 1968. Today, the historic building houses several educational programs, including the Carver 4-County Museum.
The program featured the theme “Telling our Story-Teach the Children.” Alumni, community leaders and youth joined together to recount the history of the school, emphasizing the importance of passing the torch to future generations.
The Rev. Frank Lewis, chair of the George Washington Carver Regional High School Alumni Association and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, talked about the legacy of George Washington Carver, for whom the school was named. An accomplished agriculturalist and inventor with a thirst for education, Carver not only used his success to benefit himself, but to improve the lives of those around him.
“George was always about education and not only for himself. He was always concerned about others, and he wanted to express what education really meant,” Lewis said. “He also taught others how to progress in whatever they did and he helped them to become greater farmers and inventors. … So let us remember that it’s not about us, it’s about what we can share.”
Randolph Howard, a 1961 high school graduate, shared how Carter’s legacy for community service was reflected in the education he received. Along with the lessons of hard work, honesty and courage in the face of criticism, Howard said he learned from his teachers to “work to be the best person you can because money and power disappear, but if you’re a good person, you’ll stay that way all your life. And you learned to give back to your community.”
Local students Seneca Shamir-Hill, Solo Mthetwa, Kaiaz Long and Amir Wright told the stories of those who fervently advocated for the establishment of a regional high school for Black students, including Thaddeus Johnson, Fannye Marie Tansimore Staff Reid, Gussie Taylor and Mildred Williams Willis. According to Terry Miller, curator for the Carver 4-County Museum, the efforts of these individuals led directly to early advancements in education for the Black residents of Orange County.
“Orange was the most progressive of the four counties in African American education, and it was because of the leadership,” she said, naming former Orange County Public Schools Superintendent David Nathaniel Davidson as a particularly influential figure.
Those who are interested in learning more about the establishment of the school can view the museum’s newest traveling exhibit, “Being a Citizen,” which was on display Sunday and will continue to be available for events and forums throughout the year. Through the framework of Brown v. Board of Education court cases, the exhibit showcases administrators, teachers, parents and students who played a pivotal role in advocating for Carver’s existence.
Dr. Hortense Hinton-Jackson serves as vice-chair for the alumni association, which seeks to honor the past and advance the future of Black education by maintaining the history of George Washington Carver Regional High School, connecting its alumni and providing scholarships for current students. An alumna herself, Hinton-Jackson said that hearing firsthand from those who were involved with the school is key to preserving a vibrant and accurate history.
“You want to tell your own history, not let anybody else put their twist on it,” she said. “If anybody knows the school’s history, it’s those who went there.”
Hinton-Jackson shared that it’s also important to remember what the high school represented terms of opportunity and a bridge toward later integration, and to pass the message along members of the younger generation so that they can further improve their community.
“They’ll realize there’s still a lot of work to be done, but the community has laid the foundation to do that,” she said.
Seidah Armstrong, owner of Sweet Vines Farm Winery, is a former school teacher and principal. She offered a vision of the potential held within Orange County children, including those in attendance at the event.
“We have students in the audience today that don’t even realize that they’re going to be our next NASA engineers, our next doctors, our next lawyers, our next chemists,” she said. “You can do and be anything you want to be, children. You have the adults right here who have paved the way. It’s time for us to reap the benefits.”
From event moderator Donea Brooks, who was raised in Orange County and returned as a teacher, to dancer Lance Lemon and poets India Nixon and Tina Covington, the event was also a demonstration of the excellence already evident in local youth. In her original poem “Carver, Brave and Bold,” Covington perfectly captured the spirit of the jubilee and poignantly described her hopes for the future:
Seventy-five years have passed along, yet still, we face a world of strife. And so we teach the children to give them life, to persevere, to never quit, to strive for excellence, bit by bit, to hold their heads up high and say, “I am strong, I am brave. I will not sway.” We in the school and this community, we find the strength to be all we can be. To stand for what is right and true and to make a better world for me and you. So let us celebrate the joy and pride, the legacy that we have inside.
To purchase tickets for the Carver 75th Jubilee Gala, to be held Oct. 21 at the Germanna Community College Daniel Technology Center in Culpeper, email email@example.com.