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Students strove for excellence and equality

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Hundreds of African-American students from Galax, Grayson and Carroll were bused to Scott Memorial and Wytheville Training School until public schools were fully integrated in the early 1960s. The schools held their 60th reunion this weekend.

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By JOHN M. JOHNSON, Special Writer
and BRIAN FUNK, Staff

WYTHEVILLE — There was a time when African-American students from Galax, Grayson and Carroll had to endure 140-mile round-trip bus rides to special schools in Wytheville, just to get an education.
From the years right after the end of the Civil War until the mid-1960s, generations of black children from this area were educated at the Wytheville Training School and Scott Memorial High School.
The training school closed when students moved to Scott Memorial, and it closed in 1965, when most schools in the South finally integrated races.
The weekend of Aug. 31-Sept. 2, the schools held their 60th reunion for their ever-dwindling number of alumni.
One of their top graduates, Fries native Trula Frances Young Vereen, was the guest speaker.
The retired college professor, who now lives in Florida, is one of the most-honored students of the Wytheville Training School and Scott Memorial High School.
Vereen was a graduate of Scott Memorial in 1957, and was one of those students who suffered the long bus rides from Grayson County to Wytheville during those years.
“The roads were long. Some were challenging and difficult,” Vereen told The Gazette this week — and not just the physical roads those buses traveled. “Through the guidance of God, love and prayers of my parents, the leadership of Scott Memorial High School and a dream, I am proud to be the person that I am.”
From today, Friday, through Sunday students will come from far and near to meet, greet, hug and shake hands once again. Many have passed on, but those who remain remember the struggles involved in gaining an education at a time when public schools were whites-only.

'Separate But Equal'
When slavery came to its conclusion in 1865, little was known about the fate and future of black people in the South.
It was a hard row to hoe, as the saying goes, especially for those who didn’t know what direction they were going after what should have been the last shot fired to end the Civil War and slavery.
Slavery did end, but institutional discrimination against blacks lasted another century.
The future was uninviting for most freed people after the Civil War. They lost living quarters, clothing and food — all of which had been provided by a master.
Little did these former slaves know that all the hardships that freedom brought were not for nothing. There were other generations to follow, and they would make the difference.
Education would be the answer, but it would take 88 years, from 1866 to 1954, before the real doors to freedom would swing open in the South.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous 9–0 vote stated, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” As a result, racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This ruling paved the way for the integration of public schools in the South, but that process took another decade, and was bitterly fought by segregationists.
By traveling to attend Wytheville Training School, Vereen — a that time Trula Frances Young, daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. Eugene “Buster” Young of Fries — would take her position on a road to education on which many black people, including her ancestors, trod.

School set up after Civil War
The story of the Wytheville Training School begins right after the Civil War’s end, in 1865. The Freedmen’s Bureau joined with numerous Northern church and civic leaders to successfully encourage teachers to travel to the South to educate newly freed slaves, according to the school’s website, wythevilletrainingschool.org.
This school accepted more than 125 former slave students in its beginning, but there would be many more children to follow in their wake, including Young.
In 1867, the Freedmen’s Bureau rented four rooms below a Tazewell Street printing office in Wytheville and established a church and school for former African-American slaves. At the same time, the Freedmen’s Bureau encouraged the construction of another building, at the corner of Fifth and Franklin streets, to take the place of the first school.
In 1883, trustees of both the Evansham School District and the Franklin Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Wytheville purchased the Freedmen’s school, according to the website history. To meet the obligation of Wytheville’s exploding African-American population, the new leadership erected on the site the new, larger school.
In 1929, the Wytheville Normal Graded “A” School became certified for its improvement in training and the name was changed to the Wytheville Training School.
The facility welcomed every African-American student in the Wytheville area. By the late 1930s, the school hosted African-American high school students from Bland, Grayson and Carroll counties, as well as some African-American elementary school students from Wythe County and the vicinity.
“When the school became overcrowded in 1944, school officials moved the Rock Dale School, an idle white children’s school, to the Wytheville Training School site,” according to the school’s history.
In 1952, the Wytheville Training School was closed for lack of space and was deemed unsafe as a school.
In the same year, the school board dedicated the newly constructed high school on the south side of Wytheville and named the new construction for Professor Richard Henry Scott, an early African-American educator at the Wytheville Training School.
Students from grades one through eleven were introduced to the new Scott Memorial High School, which is today Scott Memorial Middle School.
Vereen and other students from Wythe, Grayson, Carroll and Bland counties and the western edge of Pulaski County commenced to attend Scott Memorial.
However, the long 70-mile, one-way bus trip from Carroll and Grayson counties came to an end in 1965 when schools were integrated in most of the South.
The doors were closed as a segregated African-American school.
The original school is now the Wytheville Training School Cultural Center, which was organized in 2000.
“Today, the building looks just as it did in 1952, with the same roof, the same weatherboard siding and the same green and white color,” according to the website.
The cultural center promotes “the understanding and appreciation of Wythe County’s African-American education heritage within the context of the 19th and 20th centuries,” and uses the old building and facilities to provide education and cultural opportunities for citizens of all ages, races and economic levels.

Vereen Achieves Success after Graduation
At the reunion, Vereen talked about how she earned her Master’s degree from Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after graduation from Scott Memorial in 1957. She also earned an MBA degree from the University of Palm Beach, Fla.; and a BSA degree from Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.
Vereen is retired from her position as an associate professor from South University at West Palm Beach, Fla.
She holds a position as office and finance manager for the law office of Bryan Boysaw and Associates, P. A., in West Palm Beach, Fla., an injury and disability law firm.
Making a success of education for black people was “a hard row to hoe,” but Trula Young Vereen hoed this row relentlessly, starting at an early age.
She planted the seeds and they grew to honor and respect from the Wytheville Training School and Scott Memorial High School population.

To learn more about Wytheville Training School, visit the cultural center's website, wythevilletrainingschool.org.