The Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth was first established in 1893 as a private residential school aimed at African American youth of both sexes. Prior to building, founder and ex-slave Jennie Dean spent ten years fundraising and charismatically proposing the importance of a vocational school for African American youth. The first building in the school, Howland Hall, was completed in 1894, and social former and abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave the dedication ceremony. By the turn of the century, the school had about 150 students for the three-term academic year, from October through May.
The school was taken over by the regional public school system in 1938, which consisted of the public school systems of Fairfax, Fauquier, and Prince William counties. In the 1960s, the Manassas Industrial School buildings were demolished. Today, the school’s original site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial provides an information kiosk and audio programs showcasing this history.
Today, the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth today is a 4.5-acre archaeological park that is historically significant for its unique record of daily life at a residential vocation school for black youth at the turn of the century. The school dates back to the mid-1880s when ex-slave Jennie Dean (who was enslaved in Prince William County) identified a need for secondary education for African Americans. Many of the one-room schoolhouses at that time only offered classes up to the seventh grade, and so Jennie Dean set out speaking and fundraising with local blacks, sympathetic whites, and other esteemed abolitionists from the north (including Frederick Douglass).
Between its opening in 1894 and 1937, Manassas served students from Virginia as well as other surrounding states. Some of the offered courses included math, natural sciences, geography, music, literature, English, and others. Vocational classes for boys included carpentry, blacksmithing, painting, cobbling, and wheelwrighting; vocational classes for girls included sewing, cooking, domestic arts, laundry, and patchwork.
As a private institution, the Manassas Industrial School faced constant financial difficulties, and in 1938, the school became the segregated regional high school for blacks (it would later become Prince William High School). Years following Brown v. Board of Education, the schools in Fairfax, Fauquier, and Prince William counties were fully integrated and, in the mid-60s, the Manassas Industrial School was demolished. A memorial park now stands in its place and features an information kiosk informing visitors of this historically significant part of African American education in Virginia.1