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Memories of Union High: An Oasis in Caroline County, Virginia, 1903-1969 Paperback – November 25, 2011
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From the Author
I became interested in the history of Caroline County, Virginia while performing genealogy research in the county. I often noticed a dearth of information about African Americans in the historical archives and libraries and decided to take an active role in preserving the history of the communities where my ancestors lived.
In 2009, I initiated the Union High History Project to research, document and preserve the history of Union High School, Caroline County's only high school for Negroes during the era of segregation. Information was gathered from a variety of historical archives and over 100 Union High alumni, faculty, family and friends were interviewed. Union High memorabilia and ephemera were also collected from a variety of sources.
I was honored to learn first hand from teachers and administrators about their efforts to provide educational opportunities to the students and help them become productive self-sufficient citizens. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to alumni reminisce about their teachers, such as Ms. Mary Banks, the kind-hearted home economics teacher who encouraged her students to act like ladies at all times, the brilliant but eccentric mathematics teacher, Mr. James Luckie, who had no patience for foolishness and Ms. Poole who was only at the school for a very short time but had a major impact on a student's life with a single class discussion
It was a joy to learn about the school's award wining marching band, choir and champion boys baseball team who made history by becoming the first school (Black or White) in Caroline County to win a state championship in the 1950's. It was also a pleasure to hear about the many school functions such as May Day, Prom and Commencement.
It was interesting to listen to the decisions students made when they were given the opportunity to attend the previously White high schools during desegregation and their feelings of ambivalence about the end of their beloved school after integration. Participants of the Union High History Project are proud of the legacy of Union High and were happy to be given the opportunity to let the world know about their treasure. It was a joy and honor to work with them and I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to preserve an important piece of Caroline County history for posterity.
From the Back Cover
In 1895, members of the Caroline County Sunday School Union carried out a plan to build and operate a secondary school for Negro children in Caroline County, Virginia. From 1903 to 1969, the school - originally named Bowling Green Industrial Academy, then Caroline County Training School, and finally Union High School - served as the only secondary school for Negro children in Caroline County.
Thousands of children passed through Union High's doors. Their minds were filled with a wealth of knowledge from the academic and vocational subjects. Caring and nurturing teachers took a genuine interest in their development and encouraged them to strive for excellence in all endeavors, enriching their lives. An abundance of extra curricular activities taught them leadership skills and the value of teamwork and built their confidence. Field trips to educational and cultural events outside their rural community opened the wider world to them.
On June 5, 1969, the last group of students graduated from Union High School. At the start of the 1969-1970 school year, both Black and White students attended the school, renamed Bowling Green Senior High School, when the Caroline County School system became integrated.
Although Union High School no longer exists, it lives on in the fond remembrances of those who were privileged to attend it. Memories of Union High uses photos, memorabilia and first hand accounts from Union High alumni, family and friends to preserve the history of a premier institution in the African American community of Caroline County.
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Author Marion Woodfork Simmons has triumphed in her attempt to capture the memories of Union High School from its founding to its impact on the community to its end during the desegregation movement. She also succeeds in documenting almost every aspect of "school life" including tributes to teachers and administrators from students, lists of administrators and teachers, not so speak of the abundance of photos listing, where possible, each person in the photo.
Memories of Union High is a must for any genealogist and family historian who had Caroline County, Virginia family or ancestors who attended Union High or worked there. But also, Simmons has the ability to transport you back in time and you feel like you are there in the hallways, at the assemblies, and taking part in community life.
I also want to point out how thoroughly researched Memories of Union High is: notes, bibliography and appendices. Simmons does well to ask the reader in the Author's Notes section to first read the Historical Background before diving in to a trip down memory lane.
Finally, Memories of Union High should serve as model for what any genealogist or local historian can do in terms of a school history, a church history or other type of history of an institution. Follow Simmons' model and methodology and not only will you create a fitting tribute to a community and its institutions, but you'll be able to transform your research into something approachable and accessible by friends, family and the public.
Don't let the fact that Memories of Union High is very specific in its focus deter you from buying this book. It is much more than local history . . . it is the story of how a community and its leaders through their dedication and perseverance, made an investment in their children and in their future.
Marion Woodfork Simmons has written an excellent history chronicling this school from its earliest days when it was known as Bowling Green Industrial Academy, through the years as Caroline County Training School, and then the final four decades when the name was changed to Union High School.
The author has meticulously covered all aspects of life at the school from Administration and Faculty, to Student Life, to the Curriculum and the vital role that the school played in the social life of the community. She describes in detail the diversity of the population for some were children of sharecroppers, other students had parents who were manual laborers, domestic servants, and yet others were children of government workers, educators, clergy, as well as children of business owners. In addition, many children came from remote parts of the county and had long commutes (or long 4-5 mile walks) to school. Meanwhile other classmates had to reside with grandparents, or aunts and uncles to have access to a Union High education. What a surprise to also learn that there was an option for students to board at the school as well. The desire for education was so strong among the black citizens of the county, that several parents paid the $14 for room and board at the school.
This work also captures the social climate of the day when she describes the struggles to co-exist with a hostile Jim Crow community, and she also describes the resistance from the Rappahanock Indian community that fought vehemently against having their sons and daughters attend school with the black students of Union High.
The book contains not only facts, but also remarks from former students who had attended the school. As Ms. Simmons described various aspects of life at Union High, she included the words of the students who recalled their particular life as a pupil. This method of sharing the history of the school makes "Memories of Union High", more than a simple memory book. It is an accurate chronicle of an institution that provided an option for students who often found barriers in their path, placed by a hostile Jim Crow South, to prevent their success. Union High School opened doors for at least three generations, and gave the students a chance to fulfill their personal dreams.
One cannot omit mentioning the presence of the images--over 170 photos are found throughout the book. Pictures from the earliest days when the school was an industrial training school are included in the book and the author included dozens more photos reflecting life throughout each decade.
Those with and without ties to Union High School, will find this book to be useful. For those with personal ties to Caroline County Virginia, they will appreciate it for the memories, but I encourage others to also obtain this book. Those who are researching other communities will want to use this book as a model. The structure of the book can inspire other writers and community historians to follow the author's methods of documenting a rich school history!
Marion Woodfork Simmons deserves to be congratulated on this thoroughly researched and well-documented chronicle of a community long overlooked.
The stories are educational, informative, and entertaining. The book is a celebration of the academic, athletic, musical and drama trophies won by its scholars from a segregated country school thought to be inferior by schools across the state. Memories of UNION HIGH, is also overdue recognition of everyday sheroes and heroes in Caroline County who turned obstacles into opportunities by preparing its students to compete with the best in this country and become productive citizens of the world.