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October 17, 2012 Published in Other News

Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance To Release Historic Structures Report On Carver Nursery School/William Thomas Post

By Boyd Walker

The Carver Nursery School, more recently known as William Thomas Post 129 of the American Legion, is an historic property that tells a unique part of the story of Alexandria, Virginia’s African American community, and yet it continues to be threatened by demolition. The current owner has proposed to tear down the building and replace it with a 8 unit condominium building if a purchaser is not found before February of 2013, a mere three months away. The city through, an agreement with the owner, has tried to market and sell the building to someone interested in restoring the building for a new use. Yet, if a buyer is not found soon or an alternative plan developed, this building could be demolished during February, our next Black History Month.

An in-depth study has been underway on the building over the last year. The study evaluated all parts of the building and uncovered additional historical information. The resultant Historic Structure Report provides a strong basis for significance and supports rehabilitation of the building. The report was prepared by Terry A. Necciai, RA, a historic preservation architect and architectural historian. Necciai, who now lives in Philadelphia, formerly lived in Del Ray and was the principal staff member when John Milner Associates drafted the National Register nomination for the Uptown/Parker-Gray Historic District for the city. The research, which was funded through a grant of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, shows:

1. The building is the only known building of its kind (a nursery school specifically for African Americans) funded by Congress to still survive. (the Lanham Community Facilities Act.)

2. It was the scene of a protest that illustrates unfair treatment and possibly led to the eventual closing of the school, after the federal funding ran out.

3. The building retains a majority of its original characteristics, and can be renovated or restored to an active use. Its features represent the purpose for which it was built, as a modest nursery school. The building material and techniques are simple in design and easy to replicate today.

4. It was named after GW Carver, the scientist at the Tuskegee Institute, and so carries an association with a famous individual. A movie theater and a men’s store were also named after Carver on the corner of Queen and Fayette.

5. Although built specifically for African American children, the nursery school was part of a larger movement in early childhood education. It reflects a chain of developments in the education of small children that unfolded through several government-sponsored programs across a period of four or five decades. These developments eventually brought kindergarten programs into existence in almost all school districts, and they made daycare centers common and viable that allowed mothers of young children to hold jobs.

6. As a school built specifically for African American Children, the Carver Nursery School was part of a long tradition dating from the Freedman’s Bureau to the Rosenwald schools established across the southern United States. While 5,000 schools, similar in design to this one, were sponsored by the program Julius Rosenwald (owners of Sears Roebuck & Co.) started, very few are still standing. Indeed, this building, built in 1944, might be one of the last one-story frame schools built specifically for Virginia’s African American citizens. There could be no greater illustration of the fallacy of “separate but equal” education in the United States than preserving this building.

7. Lastly, and not least, is its story as a center of activities for African American Veterans who came home from WWII only to find that life was still segregated at home, and so had to create their own veterans’ lodge. Yet these veterans shared the facility with the surrounding community, making it the focal point of many post-War community events that are fondly remembered today by the senior members of the African American community. The legacy of the lodge activities lives on today in the William Thomas Post 129, which has relocated.

Currently we are discovering and recognizing our African American Heritage in Alexandria, from the discovery of the overlooked history of Ft. Ward and the African American legacy that is there, to the recent passage of a plan for the Freedman and Contraband Cemetery. We have renamed the Black History Resource Center, the Black History Museum, and proposals have been submitted how to better recognize Charles Houston in front of the Charles Houston Recreation Center. There is new sculpture of the Edmund Sisters on the former site of the Bruin Slave Jail, and a Museum in the Armfield Miller Building on Duke St. has been opened. We have named an elementary school after Samuel Tucker, one of the leaders of the 1939 sit-in at the Alexandria Library. In so many ways we are celebrating African American history and contributions to Alexandria, yet we are about to let go of a very important piece of the our history, a piece that might help tie all those other stories to the present time.

Even though some of this history only highlights injustices done to African Americans and highlights how long we took as a nation to guarantee civil rights, we need to keep on telling the story, because those victories were not so long ago, and there are other groups that still have to fight for their civil liberties and civil rights, and we must protect the rights that were so hard fought in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Many of our African American citizens today living in Alexandria went to segregated schools, or went to the William Thomas Post, because it was the only place they were allowed to go. If we do not tell our children and grandchildren the whole story, by leaving part of it out, we could be denying them the whole truth. And as with so many stories that begin right here in Alexandria, it is not just our story, it is not just a story about our community, but part of a larger story that is shared across the whole United States, and how we became who we are today. From the first sit-in civil rights protest, which led to many others, to the meetings between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at Gadsby’s Tavern, or John Carlyle and General Braddock at Carlyle house, the stories that we help to tell here in Alexandria are relevant to the entire nation and need to be told.

The African American story is no less important than any other history that Alexandria has to share, and we must work to complete the story of this remarkable journey. And since we happen to be so close to the nation’s capital and already receive more than 3 million visitors a year, we can count on those visitors to tell a unique American Story, attract the heritage tourists interested in this history, as well as scholars and future school children to this building, which is part of a larger story. Therefore, we, The Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance invite you to the release of the Historic Structure Report for the Carver Nursery School on Oct. 27th a 1 pm at the Black History Museum, to learn more about the history of the building and why it is an asset to our community and should remain so.

 

Please come to this Presentation on Oct. 27th, 1pm
Black History Museum 902 Wythe St.

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