Although dozens of state historical markers — which honor the regional or statewide significance of a person or place — can be found throughout Bedford and Amherst counties, neither has a single marker recognizing people or places in the African American community.

A spokesperson with Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources said that will change in 2020 when markers are placed recognizing the former Susie G. Gibson High School in Bedford County and the former Central High School in Amherst County — both of which served as segregated high schools for black students prior to mandated integration.

The markers are two of 13 recently approved by the state for placement. “Bedford County has about 20 markers right now, and Amherst County has more than a dozen,” said Randy Jones, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“However, these two are the first in those counties dealing with African American history.” Jones said both schools were constructed and opened within two years of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education ruling declaring “separate but equal” educational facilities to be unconstitutional.

“It’s fascinating that the applications for both markers were submitted and approved at the same time because both are related to the segregation era,” Jones said. “It wasn’t planned out that way by the state, but it worked out great.”

The former Susie G. Gibson High School — now the Bedford Science and Technology Center at 600 Edmund St. in Bedford — opened in the fall of 1954 and was the first new high school for black students in Bedford County. The school, which became a vocational school in 1970, was an all-black school for 15 years until the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare ordered Bedford County to fully integrate its school system.

Jennifer Thomson, a historian with the Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library, said Susie G. Gibson’s life and career deserve just as much recognition as the school that bore her name.

“I’m thrilled that the school is being recognized for its historical significance,” said Thomson, who worked with the former high school’s alumni during the application process. “However, the real story to me is the wonderful and amazing woman who dedicated her life to the African American students in Bedford County and the contributions graduates of the school named in her honor made in our community.”

Gibson (1878-1949) was Bedford County’s supervisor of African American education from 1926 until her death 22 years later. Thomson noted that despite a four-decade teaching career that started in 1909, Gibson did not receive her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Virginia State College until 1943, six years before her death.

“It took her 22 years to earn her degree, which was an amazing journey,” Thomson said. “She would go to school and earn a few credits and then have to withdraw and work for a few years before going back and earning a few more credits toward her degree. She was a very determined woman.”

During her 22 years as Bedford County’s supervisor of African American education, Gibson traveled all over Bedford County to teach and mentor the division’s black students, Thomson said.

“She drove all over the county in this little, old car to work with her students,” Thomson said. “She devoted most of her life to these children. I became fascinated with her story and contacted an alumni group from the school about getting a marker erected. We are all excited this is happening.”

Thomson said she was “thrilled” to learn the high school’s marker is the first in Bedford County related to black history. “That is a huge deal,” Thomson said. “Even though Susie G. Gibson doesn’t qualify for her own marker because her contributions were local rather than regional, I am pleased the school named for her is receiving this honor.”

Like Susie G. Gibson High School, Amherst County opened Central High School — now Amherst Middle School at 165 Gordon’s Fairgrounds Rd. in Amherst — in 1956 despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on “separate but equal” facilities. Beverly Jones — a 1965 Central High graduate and retired Amherst County Public Schools teacher who helped organize the effort to get a marker placed at the school — said the school was established at the same time as the all-white Amherst County High School.

“It was during the ‘separate but equal’ era,” Jones said. “Since they were building a new school for white students, the county had to build one for black students as well.”

Central High School was the first school in Amherst County to offer 12th grade to black students and replaced the Madison Heights Negro School and the Amherst County Training School. Central High School operated from 1956 to 1970, until Amherst County desegregated its schools under federal court order. Jones said the school’s trophies, choir robes and photos were disposed of in the trash when the school was integrated.

“They kept nothing,” Jones said. “All of our school’s memorabilia was thrown away when Central High School became Amherst Junior High in 1970. Amherst County integrated its school over the Christmas holiday in 1969 and had erased the pride of the black community by the start of 1970. Yearbooks are the only thing we have to show our legacy.”

However, Jones and other alumni of the historic high school have kept the memory of their school alive and organized an “all-school reunion” in February for students of Central High School, Madison Heights Negro School and the Amherst County Training School.

“I became the historian and keeper of what remained after the schools integrated,” Jones said. “We held our reunion in February and it was great reliving the good old days.”

Like the alumni of Susie G. Gibson High School, the former students of Central High School raised the approximately $1,700 needed to sponsor a historical marker. Jones said the school’s alumni hope to dedicate the marker during the next all-school reunion in July of 2020.

“We have to wait for some things to go through the state’s highway department before we know when we can dedicate our marker,” Jones said. “It would be great to do it when we are all together at our next reunion. “However, we are just thrilled our application was approved by the state,” Jones said. “I can’t express how good it felt to get that news.”

Jones added she also was pleased to hear of the approval for the Susie G. Gibson High School marker. “That was great news because both our schools were built and operated during the same period,” Jones said. “In fact, we used to play them in basketball every year. However, we were only rivals on the court.”

Although dozens of state historical markers — which honor the regional or statewide significance of a person or place — can be found throughout Bedford and Amherst counties, neither has a single marker recognizing people or places in the African American community.

A spokesperson with Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources said that will change in 2020 when markers are placed recognizing the former Susie G. Gibson High School in Bedford County and the former Central High School in Amherst County — both of which served as segregated high schools for black students prior to mandated integration. The markers are two of 13 recently approved by the state for placement.

“Bedford County has about 20 markers right now, and Amherst County has more than a dozen,” said Randy Jones, public information officer for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “However, these two are the first in those counties dealing with African American history.”

Jones said both schools were constructed and opened within two years of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. the Board of Education ruling declaring “separate but equal” educational facilities to be unconstitutional.

“It’s fascinating that the applications for both markers were submitted and approved at the same time because both are related to the segregation era,” Jones said. “It wasn’t planned out that way by the state, but it worked out great.”

The former Susie G. Gibson High School — now the Bedford Science and Technology Center at 600 Edmund St. in Bedford — opened in the fall of 1954 and was the first new high school for black students in Bedford County. The school, which became a vocational school in 1970, was an all-black school for 15 years until the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare ordered Bedford County to fully integrate its school system.

Jennifer Thomson, a historian with the Bedford Museum & Genealogical Library, said Susie G. Gibson’s life and career deserve just as much recognition as the school that bore her name.

“I’m thrilled that the school is being recognized for its historical significance,” said Thomson, who worked with the former high school’s alumni during the application process. “However, the real story to me is the wonderful and amazing woman who dedicated her life to the African American students in Bedford County and the contributions graduates of the school named in her honor made in our community.”

Gibson (1878-1949) was Bedford County’s supervisor of African American education from 1926 until her death 22 years later. Thomson noted that despite a four-decade teaching career that started in 1909, Gibson did not receive her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Virginia State College until 1943, six years before her death.

“It took her 22 years to earn her degree, which was an amazing journey,” Thomson said. “She would go to school and earn a few credits and then have to withdraw and work for a few years before going back and earning a few more credits toward her degree. She was a very determined woman.”

During her 22 years as Bedford County’s supervisor of African American education, Gibson traveled all over Bedford County to teach and mentor the division’s black students, Thomson said.

“She drove all over the county in this little, old car to work with her students,” Thomson said. “She devoted most of her life to these children. I became fascinated with her story and contacted an alumni group from the school about getting a marker erected. We are all excited this is happening.”

Thomson said she was “thrilled” to learn the high school’s marker is the first in Bedford County related to black history.

“That is a huge deal,” Thomson said. “Even though Susie G. Gibson doesn’t qualify for her own marker because her contributions were local rather than regional, I am pleased the school named for her is receiving this honor.”

Like Susie G. Gibson High School, Amherst County opened Central High School — now Amherst Middle School at 165 Gordon’s Fairgrounds Rd. in Amherst — in 1956 despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling on “separate but equal” facilities.

Beverly Jones — a 1965 Central High graduate and retired Amherst County Public Schools teacher who helped organize the effort to get a marker placed at the school — said the school was established at the same time as the all-white Amherst County High School.

“It was during the ‘separate but equal’ era,” Jones said. “Since they were building a new school for white students, the county had to build one for black students as well.”

Central High School was the first school in Amherst County to offer 12th grade to black students and replaced the Madison Heights Negro School and the Amherst County Training School. Central High School operated from 1956 to 1970, until Amherst County desegregated its schools under federal court order.

Jones said the school’s trophies, choir robes and photos were disposed of in the trash when the school was integrated.

“They kept nothing,” Jones said. “All of our school’s memorabilia was thrown away when Central High School became Amherst Junior High in 1970. Amherst County integrated its school over the Christmas holiday in 1969 and had erased the pride of the black community by the start of 1970. Yearbooks are the only thing we have to show our legacy.”

However, Jones and other alumni of the historic high school have kept the memory of their school alive and organized an “all-school reunion” in February for students of Central High School, Madison Heights Negro School and the Amherst County Training School.

“I became the historian and keeper of what remained after the schools integrated,” Jones said. “We held our reunion in February and it was great reliving the good old days.”

Like the alumni of Susie G. Gibson High School, the former students of Central High School raised the approximately $1,700 needed to sponsor a historical marker. Jones said the school’s alumni hope to dedicate the marker during the next all-school reunion in July of 2020.

“We have to wait for some things to go through the state’s highway department before we know when we can dedicate our marker,” Jones said. “It would be great to do it when we are all together at our next reunion.

“However, we are just thrilled our application was approved by the state,” Jones said. “I can’t express how good it felt to get that news.”

Jones added she also was pleased to hear of the approval for the Susie G. Gibson High School marker.

“That was great news because both our schools were built and operated during the same period,” Jones said. “In fact, we used to play them in basketball every year. However, we were only rivals on the court.”

Get breaking news emails

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Reporter

Shannon Keith covers Bedford County for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5530.

Recommended for you

Load comments