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School’s history detailed at library

Morgan Memorial Library hosted Mae Burke for its monthly Evening Conversations session Thursday evening, and she shared history and personal stories of her alma mater, Nansemond County Training School.

Built in 1924, Nansemond County Training School was the first public high school for black students in Nansemond County.

Burke stood in front of a small audience and told the story of the school before showing the documentary “Strength Through Our Roots.” Burke graduated in 1959.

The short film showcases the alumni from Nansemond County Training School and Southwestern High School to talk about history and personal anecdotes. The movie also shows old photos and current photos of the school and its students.

Nansemond County Training School was one of 3,500 Rosenwald schools, and Burke wants to make sure the history of Julius Rosenwald is remembered.

Rosenwald was the Sears, Roebuck & Co. executive and philanthropist whose Rosenwald Fund provided more than $4 million for the construction of schools for black students in the rural South during the days of segregation. Nansemond County Training School was one of about a dozen such schools in what is now Suffolk. A children’s book, called “Dear Mr. Rosenwald,” has been written about him.
“I want to ask all the libraries to put ‘Dear Mr. Rosenwald,’” Burke said. “I want all the kids to have access to the book to know about him.”

The book is written from the perspective of children for children.

“This is just a little bit of the story,” Burke said.

Most of the other all-black schools in the area have been torn down, and Burke hopes that this won’t be the same reality the Nansemond County Training School will face.

“Sometimes it cost more money to repurpose the buildings than to just tear them down,” Burke said. “The dream is not dead. We want some agency with money to do something with it.”

Most of the school has been torn down, but a large portion of the building remains. So far, steps have been made in the right direction to make sure the building will be preserved.

In 2004, the school was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Nansemond County Training School Heritage Center handles the school.

In 2007, the Heritage Center received $150,000 in grant money from the Virginia General Assembly. The money will be used for the architectural plans for the preservation and reuse of the school.

Burke hopes that the school building will stay and be reused so that the younger generation can learn about the history.

“I think it would be so sad if a whole generation didn’t have anything to show for it,” Burke said. “You get to a certain age and you think about what you will leave behind, because it isn’t about us anymore. You have to ask, ‘What did I do that will benefit someone else?’”