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The Laurel Grove School: A Story for All Virginians

In the 1990s, northern Virginia's urban sprawl might have destroyed three landmarks of an African American community that had sprung to life at the end of Reconstruction: The Laurel Grove Colored School, Baptist Church, and Cemetery. However, once real estate developers Mark and Barbara Fried began the title search on 23 acres of land near the Franconia Metro Station, they discovered that 13 of these acres had been in the Jasper-Walker family since 1860, and one building on the property had been a one-room school for local colored children. Recognizing that this history was important, and wanting to uncover the story of the families and community whose children attended the school, the Fried Company restored the building and supported the initial historical research that followed. The current owners, Clarion Partners, continue to support the mission of the Laurel Grove School Museum.

Under the direction of the Laurel Grove School Association, and with several grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, an interdisciplinary team of community members, curriculum experts, teachers, historians, and museum curators recovered the history of this school from oral histories and local archives, and refurbished the classroom. This included: Phyllis Walker Ford, Laurel Grove School Association President and Jasper descendant; Eleanor Greene, Curriculum Specialist; Linda Sargent Wood, Historian; A.T. Stephens, Museum Specialist; Elizabeth Schy, Master Teacher; and Richard Rabinowitz, American History Workshop. This team also crafted a fourth grade history curriculum to teach about slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and life under Jim Crow—a curriculum that later was adapted to middle and high school history.

Often the history of slavery, emancipation, and freedom is obscured by textbook generalizations. But the Laurel Grove School—a school established and sustained by real people whose lives touch ours—epitomizes the actions of many freedmen and freedwomen after the Civil War. Because William Jasper and his community saw education as key for African-Americans to succeed, they founded a school that is still remembered as essential by surviving alumnae. Today the school is a museum along the African-American heritage trail and the Laurel Grove School lessons are available at this Web site. Through them all of us are privileged to be witnesses to this history and to connect our American dreams—including those of newly arrived families—to those of the Laurel Grove School students and their families.

For more information please contact Phyllis Ford, President of the Laurel Grove School Association, at PFord17 at cox dot net or Elly Greene, Laurel Grove School Curriculum Project Director, at elly dot greene at verizon dot net

This project was funded by the We the People initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and CALIBRE, Inc.