The Beverly Allen School and Virginius Thornton–Forgotten Virginia History
The history of education related to people of color in West Point, Virginia began before the town incorporated in 1870, yet most Virginians have never heard of the Beverly Allen School. The building, which still stands on 13th Street, was recently purchased by West Rock and is under renovation.
The West Point 29
The historic Beverly Allen School was at center of the controversy related to school segregation in West Point, Virginia (Dobbins v. Commonwealth 1957). The West Point 29 and the 8 parents arrested were represented by Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson.
(NAACP Papers, Library of Congress–Spottswood W. Robinson III, Oliver Hill with West Point students George Leakes and Elaine Bowen)
(JET, February 26, 1953)
Virginius Bray Thornton III
One of the graduates and the valedictorian of the Beverly Allen School in 1951 was Virginius Bray Thornton III. He was a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In an iconic photo, he and other American Civil Rights leaders Bernard Lee, Dave Forbes, Henry Thomas, Lonnie C. King Jr, James Lawson, Reverand Wyatt Tee Walker, Michael Penn, Clarence Mitchell, Marion Barry and Dr. King are gathered in May 1960 on the campus of Atlanta University. As a local and national leader in the Civil Rights Movement, he is included in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Virginius Bray Thornton III completed his undergraduate degree at Virginia Union and in 1961, he was the first African American graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. At Virginia State University, he led the Petersburg sit-in movement.
Virginius Thornton’s story and that of the West Point 29 highlight how important it is that small, rural communities are not forgotten as scholars dig deep to recover the past and make the invisible visible. Every story. Every ancestor. Every community.
To learn more about the early history of people of color in the three rivers region of Virginia where the York River is formed at West Point by the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers, follow the the Beverly Allen Historic Preservation Foundation on Facebook and visit the website at recoverthepast.org.
Editor’s note: Want to learn about the African American experience from the arrival of the first Africans in 1619 to present day? Mark your calendar for the Determined: The 400-year Struggle for Black Equality exhibition.