Open Forum: A difference in memory

Posted: March 22, 2013

I read with interest Maria Hileman’s article, “Battles for equality fought long after the war,” which was published in The Warren Sentinel on Jan. 31, and in The Winchester Star. With all due respect to the Rev. James Kilby, I am in no way minimizing the inequities of that era, but I must comment on several fallacies that appeared in that discourse.

It was true that if a “person of color” living in Warren County wished to continue his education beyond elementary school, the next step was to enroll at the Manassas Industrial School (later called the Manassas Regional High School) as a boarding student. Initially, parents were required to pay tuition until the late ’40s at which time the Warren County School Board rightfully assumed its responsibility. Additionally, the good reputation of the school lured students from Bermuda, Washington, D.C., New York, Pittsburgh, and Page and Orange counties also.

The experience might have been “traumatic” for the Rev. Kilby, but it was a valuable learning experience for most of us. I was among the last group of Warren County students to graduate from MRHS in 1959.

The following are my points of contention with the Rev. Kilby’s perceptions:

 “Frozen water pipes” — Under no circumstances did we drink sodas for weeks! Water is essential for daily living, and for personal hygiene, etc. School would have been dismissed if there was no water for an extended period of time.

 “No doctors were on duty”— How many schools have their own “in-house” physicians? We had access to a Dr. Williams, a black practitioner who resided in Manassas. The deans of girls and boys were attentive to our medical needs, and they either called the doctor and/or our parents to come get us.

 “The food supply was not adequate” — Three balanced meals were served on Mondays through Fridays, and two on Saturdays and Sundays, plus bag lunches to be consumed later on those days. Meals were prepared by certified dieticians.

 “There were no high school sports” — What are organized football, basketball and baseball teams? We had them all! As a matter of fact, our football team was the district champion in 1958 after defeating prestigious black high schools in Northern Virginia. Girls had a reputable basketball team, and our cheerleaders were outstanding!

 “No prom or social functions” — There were proms each spring, Homecoming dances every fall, and sock hops on various occasions but particularly after games. Various clubs and organizations were available; vesper services and church attendance were required; and all students could socialize at appropriate times.

In my opinion, the majority of us were well-prepared educationally, socially, and spiritually when we embarked upon high school thanks to the guidance and tutelage of our parents and dynamic teachers like Mrs. Ressie Jeffries, Mrs. Hilda Barbour and Mrs. Lillian Sloane. We survived, became independent, were well-rounded and well-educated, and many of us went on to achieve a modicum to a wealth of successes by excelling in higher education or pursuing various vocations.

Would we rather have been able to attend school in Front Royal? You bet! But, I think I speak for a number of my peers who had a wonderful time in Manassas free from the vicissitudes that we might have suffered under different circumstances in Warren County. I truly applaud those students who took the “plunge” on Feb. 18, 1959, but I personally wouldn’t “take anything for my journey.”

Bernice S. Easley is a resident of Fredericksburg.