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2015-8-31

Letter-Training School "Deserves to be Preserved"

As you did with your earlier piece regarding the Emporia Elementary School Auditorium and the Emporia City Council's plans to demolish it, you made some persuasive points in your more recent writing regarding that same governing body's vote to do the same to the remains of the Greensville County Training School.
 
Why the rush to raze any old structure with historical significance unless there are plans to re-build on the site, or plans to develop the site in such a way as to benefit taxpayers? Especially questionable and seemingly inappropriate in this instance, as with the initial vote by City Council with regard to the old auditorium, is the spending of a sizable amount of tax dollars for the demolition.
 
And as with the auditorium, the Training School has a distinct historical relevance that deserves to be preserved, as you rightly pointed out. But in addition to its significance to black residents who may have attended there or whose ancestors may have done so, it should hold significant memories to the entire community.

In 1968, history was made when three white teachers joined the faculty there for the first time, whereas the entire student body remained black. Granted, it was only for a brief period of time until the new Belfield Elementary School was completed mid-year.

 I remember it well, because I was one of those three.
 
For the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to be in a so-called racial minority. While I was readily accepted by the sixth- grade students, I didn't feel as though I were by some of my fellow teachers.  Eventually, pretty much all the faculty accepted me. Two whom I remember as being particularly helpful to me during the time I taught there were the principal, Ulysses Russell, and my fellow teacher, Larose Gilbert, whose funeral I attended within the past year. Mr. Russell and I eventually became good friends. Mrs. Gilbert became my confidant and earned my respect as one of the most color-blind people I have ever known.
 
Typically, when I am out and about in the community today, I bump into former students who recognize me and whom I am always happy to see. Some I see and speak with on a regular basis and have for years. With others, it is bump-into and see no more, but I always enjoy the experience. One even serves on the city council.
 
As with my earlier comments about the auditorium,  my suggestion here would be to develop some creative plan to restore and preserve the old historical  site. Some might see it as a reminder of the past that for them might not have been what they would have liked it to have been. Others, myself included, might recall the old school building as a reminder of a significant time of change in our community. For whatever reason, it has historical significance and deserves preservation.
 
One suggestion might be to take all or a part of the money allocated to demolish it and to offer it, instead, to a non-profit group such as the association already formed as a type of challenge or matching amount for its restoration. And while the word "grant" as used for those financing vehicles that I mostly frown upon for projects that localities do not deem worthy enough to spend their own tax dollars to finance, why not pursue one for this project that is so worthwhile? Spending tax dollars to build or preserve definitely seems preferable than to destroy.
 
Regardless, as the city governing body did with the auditorium, at least consider going the extra mile with the training school.  And let others join in the discussion. Seek out innovative suggestions and follow-up with those that have merit and seem plausible. Don't just give up and give in because others have decided that that is the only solution.

The old school deserves it.

Keith W. Mitchell

Greensville County

Letter-Heart Broken Over Training School Demolition

Wow, my heart is broken.  Thank you for the passionate and honest editorial on the planned demolition of the Training School.  Please let me know who authored the editorial.  I pray the decision is not final and there is some hope and plan to save the historical site.  It is officially registered on the Historical Preservation site.  How can this be?  Is it permissible to tear down historical buildings?  Many Rosenwald schools throughout the country have been restored and re-purposed bringing revitalization to communities.  The historic Training School because of what it provided to the African American community, and the community as a whole, deserves the same consideration.  If $80,000 is being proposed by the City Council to demolish the historic building, why not use those funds for restoration.  I felt the same way about the Emporia Elementary School and the Auditorium.  By the way, I attended both the Training School and the elementary school.  Emporia and Greensville County are such special places, due largely because of its residents, history, and geographical location.  It is rich with economic and development potential, but I am not so sure that those who govern there are aware of this.  Let's come together to save and restore the Training School, making this the start of revitalizing all of Emporia and Greensville County. 

Native Emporian - always in heart,

Rose P.

(Editor's Note-There is no law preventing the demolition of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places nor the Virginia Landmarks Registry)

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