Taylor High graduates rally to save their old school
It needs to stay as a landmark to black history and the history of segregation and integration of Fauquier County. We don’t need to lose that. I would be mightily upset if they tear that building down and the name W.C. Taylor disappears with it.
— Miriam Porter
Taylor High Timeline
• Sept. 15, 1952 — William C. Taylor High School opens after delays because later delivery of materials. The school remains incomplete. Taylor has 224 students on opening day. The county school superintendent calls it “a model of its kind . . . . Without unnecessary frills, it still contains every modern feature that the latest in school design can incorporate . . . . It’s built to last.”
• 1954 — Taylor High School has its first graduating class.
• 1954 — In Brown vs. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court outlaws school segregation. But, Southern states delay compliance. Virginia employs “Massive Resistance” to school integration, and some counties close their public schools rather than comply with the law. Some Fauquier residents complain about this county’s failure to move more quickly.
• 1963 — “Freedom of choice” begins here, allowing black students to apply to attend integrated schools. First two black students enter Fauquier High School, the year it opens.
• 1966 — The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare orders school systems to accelerate integration.
• 1969 — Fauquier County Public Schools integrate all schools; W.C. Taylor become a junior high.
He vividly remembers construction of the brick building across the road from his segregated elementary school in the early 1950s.
“It was like a kid waiting for Christmas Day,” said Ellsworth “Larry” Weaver, who attended Taylor High from 1952 through graduation in 1956. “It represented hope.”
While their nation treated African Americans as second-class citizens, the new Warrenton school gave black students opportunity for a brighter future when it finally opened 67 years ago in September.
“It was a new beginning of not having to deal with inferior structures, plumbing that may or may not work, not having to go to some area to get coal to put in the stove,” said Mr. Weaver, 79.
“College became a reachable thing,” he added. “At Rosenwald (his elementary school), college was a talkable thing.”
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More than six decades after attending Taylor High, many of its oldest alumni still have deep connections to the building that prepared them for careers in business, teaching, government and the military.
Recently, graduates of the all-black school have rallied to save the building because of its historical and emotional significance.
For 2-1/2 years, Fauquier’s school board has debated what to do about its two oldest structures — Taylor and Warrenton middle schools, barely a mile apart in the county seat.
Taylor alumni want a planned consolidated middle school to remain at the Taylor site, but the building’s future remains uncertain.
“A modern school” for black students
When it opened in 1952, Taylor allowed all of Fauquier’s black teenagers to attend high school together for the first time.
The black community and white supporters lobbied persistently for construction of the school.
Previously, Fauquier’s black upper-school students got bused to the Manassas Industrial School or went to Warrenton’s crowded Rosenwald High School, built in 1918. The Rosenwald school combined elementary and secondary grades.
During that time, white students attended three high schools in the county — Cedar Lee at Bealeton, Marshall and Warrenton.
Fauquier named the new, all-black high school for William C. Taylor, a 65-year veteran educator who taught in Kentucky and at the Manassas Industrial School. A prominent figure in the black community, Mr. Taylor also served as the principal of Warrenton’s Rosenwald School for 16 years until his retirement in 1945.
He died at age 94, just after the school named for him opened in September 1952.
“I didn’t meet William C. Taylor, but I understood his philosophy . . . work hard in preparation,” Mr. Weaver said. “No one can take your education from you. That’s one thing teachers really laid into us.”
Mr. Weaver started as a ninth-grader at Taylor the year it opened.
“It was a modern school,” he said. “It was a building that had all the goodies inside. We had an auditorium, a gym. We didn’t have to go outside and play.”
Black students came to Taylor from cramped country schoolhouses where several grades shared the same rooms.
Still, Taylor’s interior remained unfinished for several years after its opening.
“The gym had no baskets” in 1952, Mr. Weaver recalled. “We had no bleachers. We went into this empty room (the gym), which we were in awe with, but we used to shoot the ball against the wall and pretend there was a basket there.”
In 1950, Fauquier’s population stood at about 21,000, virtually the same as a century earlier.
“But, the county’s black population had shrunk in half — from roughly 10,000 to 5,000,” the authors wrote in 250 Years in Fauquier County: A Virginia Story. “This was a trend common throughout the rural South, where limited economic and educational opportunities pushed blacks into Northern urban centers.”
When Taylor High students graduated, they typically left Fauquier for jobs in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., or went to attend college.
“You didn’t come back, because you had no opportunities because of your color,” said Maxie Brown, who graduated from Taylor in 1964.
A supportive culture
Surrounded by highly-educated teachers and involved parents, THS students received their education in a close-knit community.
“I remember it as being a family atmosphere,” Mr. Weaver said. “It was a very small populated school. There were maybe 26 people in my graduating senior class (in 1956). You knew everyone by their first name, middle name . . . and your parent’s names.”
Parents and other community members, such as the late Anne Nelson, rallied to raise funds for the marching band, sports uniforms, auditorium curtains and basic supplies.
Miriam Porter, a 1963 Taylor graduate, returned to the segregated school as an English teacher after graduating from college four years later.
Ms. Porter, 73, recalled having a single dictionary in her classroom.
“How do you teach an English class with one dictionary? I went to the school board and said, ‘I need dictionaries.’ I got seriously reprimanded for doing that,” she recalled.
Students used worn, second-hand books, but they received lots of hands-on instruction, according to Mr. Weaver.
“It didn’t stop us,” Ms. Brown said. “We learned what we had to with what we had. And you kept on.”
Earsaline Anderson and Ms. Brown, both 1964 graduates, remember their teachers as strict and formal.
“You got scolded by them, just like they were your parents,” said Ms. Anderson, 74.
“And praised by them just like they were your parents,” Ms. Brown added.
“If you chewed gum or talked too much, you would have to write a gazillion sentences,” she added.
Boys learned masonry, electrical and plumbing skills, while girls took home economics and business courses.
“Your teachers really cared that you got what they were teaching,” Ms. Brown said. “They kept in touch with your parents. They looked out for you as if you were one of their own kids.”
About 60 students graduated in 1964, according to Ms. Brown.
“Our teachers were very interested in us getting a solid foundation in education and as individuals,” Mr. Weaver said. “They realized the odds were against us at that time because of segregation and lack of facilities.”
In later years, Taylor had a robust music program and popular marching band, led by Addison Lightfoot.
Famous musicians, including Fats Domino and Otis Redding, performed at Taylor when they passed through the region. Concert ticket sales helped buy sports team and band uniforms and basic school supplies.
Taylor administrators “didn’t want to cause any commotion at the school board office,” Ms. Anderson recalled. “They couldn’t even go up there for copy paper. You had to be self-sustaining.
“If you were 18, you could drive a bus. We had quite a few students who were bus drivers,” Ms. Anderson said.
What alumni want to happen
In February, a group of alumni started attending school board meetings to learn more about options for the Taylor building and campus.
Most of the former students hope the structure will continue to operate as a school.
But, if the school board decides to instead expand and renovate Warrenton Middle, they don’t want Taylor to get demolished. The school board has no intention of razing the structure. The former students hope the building can remain an educational facility.
“Even though segregation was not the best thing in the world, W.C. Taylor, for the time it was there, was a jewel,” said 1963 graduate Conway Porter. “It should be recognized that the community took that jewel and really cherished it. The name really means something.”
His wife agrees.
“My biggest fear is that we lose the identification of W.C. Taylor,” Ms. Porter said. “We only have one other school in the county that is named for a black educator and that is Claude Thompson in Marshall.
“It needs to stay as a landmark to black history and the history of segregation and integration of Fauquier County. We don’t need to lose that,” Ms. Porter added. “I would be mightily upset if they tear that building down and the name W.C. Taylor disappears with it.”
If the school board decides to repurpose Taylor, Ms. Anderson hopes it can become a trade school or that Southeastern Alternative School would use the structure.
“I’d like to see it, if possible continue to be some type of school — more adult education classes, or specialized training. Maybe make part of it into office areas,” Mr. Weaver said. “I’m sure great minds could come up with something other than demolishing it.
“We don’t have a lot to look back on. Our communities are changing . . . . It’s almost stifling to the point where you see things you struggled for completely removed. When you have a place you can call your Mecca, your foundation . . . you don’t want to see it leave during your lifetime.”
Options for Taylor’s future
Fauquier’s educational leaders have focused on building a new, consolidated middle school in Warrenton.
Both Warrenton and Taylor have structural issues; obsolete mechanical, plumbing and heating/cooling systems; poor parking and traffic flow; security challenges; poor access for handicapped people, and other problems, according to architectural studies and maintenance supervisors.
In the fall of 2016, the school board appointed a 40-member committee to evaluate Warrenton and Taylor and make recommendations.
That December, the group recommended building a new, consolidated middle school for up to 1,000 students. The school board proposed its construction on the Taylor campus along East Shirley Avenue.
Last August, the school board discovered most of the Taylor property behind the existing school lies within a 500-year floodplain, where county government policy discourages construction of public buildings.
• $10 million for the expansion of Cedar Lee Middle School at Bealeton. The project would increase capacity by about 200 students.
• $30 million for the renovation and expansion of a middle school in Warrenton. Depending on architects’ analysis, either Taylor or Warrenton would serve as the county’s central middle school. The board will discuss the options soon.
• Renovation of the other middle school for other uses. That might include moving Southeastern Alternative School from Midland, Head Start and/or administrative offices into that building.
• Moving the school transportation and nutrition departments from Manor Drive in Warrenton to the repurposed facility.
By preserving Taylor, “we are telling our story, but also telling the story of the 1,000-plus that went there,” Ms. Anderson said. “Everyone is telling of their journey, which is a prosperous one, and the need to have Taylor remain as an educational facility.
“It’s more than a legacy. It’s history, and the story should continue,” she added.
This past Friday marked 65 years since Brown v. Board of Ed was decided declaring 'separate but equal inherently unequal." Davis v. Prince Edward County Va. was one of the five cases consolidated into the Brown case. The Robert Moton High School was utterly decrepit consisting of two tar paper shacks in addition to the building. Yet that community today has a highway plaque and a restored building as a museum paid with private donations by black and white citizens who understand the power of symbols. If the good citizens of Warrenton honored John Mosby, a Confederate soldier and/or traitor to the United States of America with an obelisk then preserving the William C. Taylor High School building should be an easy fix. The year after the Brown decision (1955) the Supreme Court stated the schools should be integrated with "all deliberate speed." How long does it take to do what is right? Tearing down Taylor cannot and will not take away the education and spirit instilled in us by the teachers, principal and assistant principal we were so fortunate to have as our educators. It is a verity that no lie can live forever and truth crushed to Earth will rise again. I am so proud of my Taylor classmates continuing the struggle.
Stacie Griffin · May 20, 2019 at 2:15 pm
I am so thankful that we are learning the important history and significance of Taylor High School. In addition to these dynamic alumni, current Taylor Middle Schools students also spoke at the recent school board meeting in support of the name and legacy. One speaker really hit home for me when she said that Taylor High School created new opportunities and unlimited possibilities for students at a time when society didn't. The Taylor HS students didn't have the latest books, newest supplies or a even a full-service facility like the white school, but they were excited to learn and grow. They rose above the circumstances. Their speeches were so inspiring and I hope all children in Fauquier County realize what a wonderful opportunity that our schools provide for them. I fully support honoring the history and legacy of W.C. Taylor HS and Middle School. I have no insight on what the final outcome will be in the Warrenton-Taylor decision, but whatever is built or remodeled on that site should include the name. Maybe we call it the W.C. Taylor Education Center that houses Southeastern, Head Start, Library Services and more. To me, each one of these entities appreciates and, to some degree, reflects the values that were instilled in the original Taylor High School.