During the 1880s, school leaders in Ceredo approved the construction of a small frame schoolhouse for African American children that operated until the 1930s at this location. The school was one of several in Wayne County that were attended by African American children during the era of segregation. The schoolhouse also served as a church and meeting place for members of Ceredo's African American community. School officials decided to close the school sometime in the early 1930s. The closure of the school was not a result of integration, as state law prohibited interracial education prior to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board, but rather owing to declining enrollment. This change was the result of African American families moving from the community, with the majority of those families deciding to move to nearby Huntington. After the closure of this school, the Ceredo School Board paid to operate a bus that transported the remaining African American students to schools in Westmoreland and Huntington. The former schoolhouse was a private home and was lost in a residential fire in the early 1970s.
The new state of West
Virginia was faced with the issue of educating African Americans following the
end of the Civil War and slavery. Initial efforts came during and immediately
after the war with missionaries and the U.S. Freedmen’s Bureau operating a number
of private schools for African Americans of all ages. A law passed by the West
Virginia state legislature in 1867 allowed the creation of public schools for
African Americans if there were at least fifteen students to attend. A new
state constitution ratified in 1872 mandated that African Americans be provided
with educational opportunities, but also required them to attend separate
schools from whites. From then until the Brown
v. Board of Education case in 1954, school segregation was an official policy
in West Virginia.
The African American
population in Wayne County has historically been small; at its peak there were
less than three dozen families. These included the Spiller, Harris, Dickerson, Mullen, Lower, Pogue, and Hamby families in Ceredo. Only a handful of African American schools were
established in the county during the entire history of segregation. The
earliest known one opened in 1870 near present day Fort Gay. Another was built
around 1872 near the town of Wayne. A school in Ceredo was built sometime
afterwards, with one source stating the date as 1875. A mixture of both black
and white teachers were hired to teach the schools over the years; many of them
came from Ohio due to shortages of teachers in West Virginia.
Very little is known
about the school in Ceredo, referred to in documents merely as the Ceredo
Colored School. The schoolhouse was located at the 1400 block of B Street at
the eastern end of Ceredo near where the flood wall stands today. The only people
known to have taught at the school were Ezra Mullen and Jessie Pogue. In Carter
G. Woodson’s article “Early Negro Education in West Virginia,” Pogue was
described as “a woman of ambition and efficiency” and during her tenure the
school “accomplished much good and exerted an influence throughout that
county.” The school taught students up to the eighth grade. Those who sought
further education could attend Douglas High School in nearby Huntington. In
addition to holding classes, the schoolhouse on B Street was also used as a
church and meeting place for the African American community.
The number of students
at the B Street school was always small, and began to decrease over the years
as most of Ceredo’s African American families moved away, many to Huntington.
Around the early 1930s the B Street school closed and students were transferred
to a new African American school on Seegar Hill, an area at the intersection of
James River Road and Hubbards Branch Road. The Seegar Hill school had
previously been for white students; when it became African American, white
students in the area were transferred to either Ceredo Elementary School or a
newly-built school in Westmoreland.
The Seegar Hill school
was short-lived, and closed by the early 1940s. By that point enrollment had
become so low that the school board found it more economical to have the
remaining African American students transported to school in Huntington every
day and pay for their dinners. The B Street schoolhouse meanwhile had been sold
by the school board after its closure and was converted into a residence. It
fell into a state of disrepair over the next few decades and was eventually
destroyed by fire around 1970. According to local lore, a man living next to
the building attended a town council meeting to complain that the structure,
now abandoned, was an eyesore. Mayor Mose Napier was reputed to have replied
“If the building was next to my house I would burn it down.” The schoolhouse
burned down the next morning.