McGraw’s Ridge Study (constructed in 1889) provides an example of balance in our research and a model for future studies on other villages. Although the emphasis of research is on the African-American experience in Conklin, we can’t do that topic justice unless we also understand the community as a whole, both whites and African-Americans who, according to former residents lived in harmony. Therefore, to appreciate the experience of white students, I decided to also search for those white students who attended the nearby institution of McGraw’s Ridge (to the west on Gum Spring road), which was sold to Roger Crossen on July 22, 1939, as well as look for descendants.
By interrogating the lists of students, the goal was to see if the school actually took children from the Conklin area and to what extent, though clearly they also serviced other communities, as did Conklin, which drew African-American students from as far away as the village of Willard at present-day Dulles Airport. A third school may have been set up for white children on Braddock Road in Conklin. Land was certainly set aside for it by Horace Adee at the same time as for Conklin’s “colored” school; but to date, we have found no records confirming its construction. The photo on this page (heretofore, never published) is of Abraham Lincoln Hutton, who was one of the instructors at McGraw’s Ridge. Another instructor was Lida F. Sowers.
The Virginia public school system set up in 1870 also established institutions to handle children with difficulties with mental capacity or with sight, hearing and speech. With regard to that, I found no examples of such schools helping African-Americans from Conklin, though I did find one example of a white Conklin child attending a school for the deaf in Staunton, Va, and one white child who was institutionalized in a facility for the insane, also in Staunton.
The examination of Conklin African-American children reviewed what they studied; but also their economic standing and the educational reach of their family. That was important; before the end of the Civil War, it was very hard and actually risky for an African-American to receive a proper education. In fact, wealthy landowners were often opposed to providing tax-payer funded schooling for either poor whites or African-Americans after the war. African-Americans of today have reason to be proud that following the war, despite all the negative pressure, their ancestors understood the value of education and invested their own money and time to make it work. This review of the experience of white children will try to determine any distinctions in subject matter, numbers of days instructed, size of classroom, etc. I also plan to compare the distances traveled by the students to school and their family’s economic and social standing vs the African-Americans.
We know that white schools received more financial support than did “colored” schools. African-American teachers were also paid less than their counterparts and the school year, at least at the start, was shorter for “colored” schools. There is also some evidence that exposure to academics was more restrained in “colored” schools. So, racial prejudice certainly existed at the time in the school system, and unfortunately, in 1896, (Plessy v. Ferguson) The Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional, that separating whites and blacks did not destroy the legal equality of the two races, or re-establish a state of involuntary servitude.” Segregation was permitted. As a result, by 1910, laws spread through the south mandating the segregation of whites and blacks in the public sphere.
Discrimination was a way of life, supported by the courts and many law makers; but it is also true that not all whites were prejudiced. Many did try to help their fellow African-American citizens prosper. Therefore, while disparities will show up, partly due to the politics of time, those cold statistics alone don’t inform us of how individual people felt. Unless some specific piece of evidence emerges in the research, I do not plan to make judgments about the racial attitudes of anyone. That would be unfair. I don’t want to diminish the impact of prejudice, which was awful; but we are also dealing with the personal reputations of many people, long dead. I won’t confer any negativity to them absent real evidence.