Jefferson School African American Heritage Center
Opened in 1926, the Jefferson School was Charlottesville's first African American high school. This site at the corner of 4th Street NW and Commerce Street was also home to the Jefferson Graded School which opened in 1895. Both schools were successors to the first Jefferson School, a freedmen's school, founded in 1865. Today, the Jefferson School houses numerous non-profit organizations, including the African American Heritage Center which offers historical and contemporary exhibitions as well as community events.
Backstory and Context
The school served as a flagship location for bringing about integration in Charlottesville after a "Massive Resistance" movement that occurred following the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. As part of "Massive Resistance," Virginia Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. closed two local schools, Venable Elementary and Lane High, to avoid integrating. However, as the schools were closed and other schools became overcrowded, it was clear that this strategy was faulty. Due to an equally headstrong effort on the part of Civil Rights activists, African American students and parents, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Charlottesville Schools were eventually desegregated. In 1965, Jefferson School became an integrated junior high school, in compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Conveniently situated between the University of Virginia and Charlottesville's Downtown Mall, this historic landmark is a bridge between the collegiate community and the greater Charlottesville-Albemarle area and is a part of the revitalization of the Starr Hill neighborhood. The school and neighborhood fit into a long, deeply rooted African American cultural tradition in Charlottesville. From Monticello's Mulberry Row to UVA's architectural masterpieces, the African American community has had a great impact on the region. The Jefferson School is a dynamic structure honoring and building upon the school's history as the premier education and social center for generations.