Central Virginia’s African Americans not only advocated schools for black children but also donated funds and land. The American Baptist Home Missionary Society, along with black churches such as Jackson Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, Mount Zion in Campbell County, and Rose Chapel in Amherst County, played pivotal roles in creating and supporting schools.
As early as 1866, Emmeline and Carrington Ellis were conducting an independent school for free blacks on Thirteenth Street in Lynchburg. In 1868 black citizens asked the Freedmen’s Bureau to start a school at Camp Davis. This action led blacks to organize the Educational Association of Lynchburg, also known as the Howard Educational Association, and to push for establishment of the Polk Street School.
In 1876 a committee of black citizens, determined to secure the advantages of education for their children, requested addition of a black high school. Their lobbying led to establishment of the Jackson Street High School, which opened in 1881. A year later, black citizens’ successful petition to the school board resulted in appointment of Jacob Yoder as principal of Lynchburg’s black schools. In 1908, with the formation of the Civic and Educational League by the city’s leading African American citizens, advocacy for better schools and better educational opportunities led to instruction in Latin in the high school, black teachers for the high school, and salary increases for these teachers.
In 1880 white teachers filled the majority of positions in the black schools, with only 785 of Virginia’s 1,256 African American schools having black teachers. But as teacher training programs enlarged the pool of black teachers, they gradually replaced whites. All over the South, petitions were made to local school boards to hire black teachers for black schools.
Most African Americans preferred that their children learn from other African Americans. Black teachers provided strong models for black students and tended to be more sympathetic than whites to the situation of black students, as well as more willing to mingle with their pupils’ families and with the larger African American community. Working for the good of the community that hired them, these teachers were in turn supported with monetary donations, supplies, and room and board. African American teachers reflected racial pride. By 1884, fourteen of the nineteen teachers in Lynchburg’s black schools were African Americans.
The teachers and administrators of black schools often referred to students’ parents as patrons. Parent patrons exercised great influence over the hiring and firing of educators and administrators, over the use of philanthropic and public funds, and over school locations and consolidations. Officials of public education and private foundations arranged school fairs, patrons’ days, and meetings to garner community support.