Suffolk history remembered

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Booker T. Washington High School graduates had the opportunity to reminisce about the history and the hardships of the school at Morgan Memorial Library on Tuesday afternoon.

Julia Bradley, class of 1956 and historian for the Alumni Association, spoke during the library’s “Afternoon Conversations” series on the process of getting the Virginia historic landmark sign at Booker T. Washington High School.

“I am a proud 1956 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School, and I am humbled and happy to share the history with you,” Bradley said. “The school was a unifying force for African-American students.

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A historical marker was unveiled for the school on Sept. 12, 2016, at the original location, 201 Lee St.

“The Alumni Association is keeping the memory of the school alive, and we give out a scholarship every year,” Bradley said.

The school was open from 1913 until 1969, and the school was the first for black students in Suffolk. It served grades 1 through 8 until ninth grade was added in 1923.

“Kids would have to attend private schools if they wanted to continue their education past ninth grade,” Bradley said.

Overcrowding was the main reason for expansion of schools in Suffolk for the black population, and the school used to rent rooms at other buildings to be able to teach until they built additional buildings, according to Bradley.

The high school opened up in 1925 to teach grades 6 to 11, and 12th grade was added in 1949. Another addition came in 1953, with a new high school on Walnut Street. Both schools were open until the city schools were forced to integrate in 1969.

Bradley remembers most students walking to school every day, and during inclement weather students would get out early since they had to walk home. Despite the challenges they faced, “The teachers were caring and dedicated,” Bradley said.

The old high school was converted to Booker T. Washington Elementary School, and the school currently houses grades pre-K to 5. The original location of the school has become the site of private residences.

The library meeting room was filled with Suffolk natives who went to Booker T. while it was still a high school, and they nodded and laughed when Bradley spoke of specific memories that happened at the high school.

Bradley has been an integral part of keeping the history of the high school, its students and faculty alive with her collection of memorabilia.

“I always collected history for the school, and I would save every bit of it,” Bradley said. “I donated most of the collection to Norfolk State University.”