Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
The focus of this research is on how daily life at and community use of Black schools in Gloucester County, Virginia changed as both the symbol and physical structure of the schoolhouse underwent shifts in perception and discourse from the 1880s through the 1950s. The historical record suggests there were major shifts in how Black schoolhouses were viewed by Black communities in those seventy years. In the 1870s and 1880s, even public schools in poor conditions were celebrated as an achievement after centuries of education being legally prohibited and the Black fight for public education after emancipation. By the 1910s, as Black schools were left out of a national movement for school improvement, there were increasing petitions for more monetary aid and public discussion of unequal conditions. In the 1920s, Gloucester got its first Rosenwald schools, new modern high-quality schoolhouses that were points of pride. Twenty years later, after two decades of neglect by school authorities, these same schools became the focus of the growing Civil Rights movement and a symbol of the discrimination faced by Black communities across the Jim Crow South. I use archaeological evidence from three Black schools in Gloucester, Woodville (44GL523), Bethel (44GL273), and Glenns/Dragon (44GL550) along with historical documents and oral histories to address what, if any, changes in daily life and community use occurred over this seventy-year period. The evidence is used to examine shifts in schoolhouse structures, education, daily life, and community events in Gloucester’s Black schools.