Citizens United to Preserve Greensville

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The progress by volunteers and Citizens United to preserve the Greensville County Training School is showing positive. The Emporia City Council had marked the structure to be taken down nearly four years ago before a new plan was introduced to save the historical site.

In November of 2015, Marva Dunn successfully negotiated an agreement with the Emporia, City Council to delay the decision previously made for demolition of the Greensville County Training School (GCTS).

Dunn describes herself as not being a begger unless it is for a good cause or to help someone else and it must be after she has exhausted all other avenues of getting the task done.

However, that night in November she was willing to beg. She was doing this in memory of her mother, Mrs. Della Moore Richardson. Her mother, who lived to be 102, attended the historic Rosenwald School.

Dunn and her two sisters grew up hearing their mother tell them how she had walked from Liberty Road in Greensville County to GCTS. They recall hearing their mother say, “I would walk in the rain, snow and cold trying to get my high school diploma, I went to the sixth grade and two days in the seventh, I wished I had kept on because back then you could get your diploma at the ninth grade.”

Years later, Dunn remembers vividly hearing these words “I sure hope they can save the Training School, when I get my little check, I send them a little money”.

In November of 2015, when Dunn read an article in the Independent-Messenger that the City Council had voted to demolish what remained of the GCTS, all she could hear was her mother’s voice saying “I sure hope they can save the Training School” That voice is what lead her to the city council meeting that night.

The council voted to give Dunn an opportunity to meet with the Citizens United to Preserve the Greensville County Training School to get permission to recruit a Special Project Committee.

The task of this committee would be to develop a feasible plan of actions that would delay or change the city council’s decision for demolition.

Dunn formed the committee and contacted Storefront Design Middle of Broad (mOb) team in Richmond. Storefront Design is a non profit organization that partners with Virginia Commonwealth University to work with historical preservation projects. The agency did not work outside of the Richmond area. However, after hearing Dunn’s story the group agreed to help the committee with the project.

Using her vivid imagination Dunn described an image of what she would like to see at the site. The architect from the mOb team drew a concept design that was presented to Emporia City Council and the work to save the GCTS began.

“It has been a struggle, a lot of long hours, some all-night long hours of work, but the fruits of our labor can finally be seen, and “We will continue to march on until victory is won.” says Dunn.

From the Emporia Independent Messenger


The Emporia City Council unanimously voted to remove the stipulation Greensville County Training School Project leaders would have to reapply for the City’s delay on demolishing the Ruffin St. Rosenwald school structure. It was the second hurdle in four years cleared by Citizens United to Preserve the Greensville County Training School.

On Aug. 18, 2015 Council voted 6-0 to move forward with an authorization of $80,000 to demolish the dilapidated structure, but a new plan presented three months later by Marva Dunn to save the Historic Rosenwald School as a memory garden was approved to leave the structure standing for the time being as Council monitored the progress of the group’s efforts. Then-councilman James Ewing successfully proposed an extended one-year time frame to assure the group had the tools needed to have an opportunity to save the structure. The 12-month extension had to be renewed by Council each year until last week’s 7-0 vote on McKinley Jordan’s proposal.

“Each year we have to come to you to continue our efforts,” Jordan said to Council. “It does kind of damper our progress because people are thinking they don’t know when it will stop.”

Julius Rosenwald, one-time president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., was a philanthropist who worked with Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute to develop building plans for schools that improved the lighting, ventilation, heating, and sanitation as well as the aesthetics of the classroom environment.

Rosenwald emphasized the importance of building schools in places that were easily accessible to the communities they served. The Rosenwald Fund and building plans spurred the construction of thousands of schools throughout the South that increased educational opportunities for African Americans during the era of segregation.

A growing number of scholars, historians, and citizens are now interested in recognizing and preserving Rosenwald schools. There are nearly 2,400 resources in Virginia listed on the National Register, the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. The Greensville County Training School opened in 1929 to educate black children and was open as an education center for more than 30 years before desegregation brought an end to the need for a Rosenwald school. The building was still used in other capacities before it closed for good in 1978.

Dunn and Citizens United were able to obtain the services of Frank Batts to work the construction piece of the project.

In December of 2016 Dunn approached Tyler King of Storefront for Community Design of Richmond to help with a lead on the project for the Rosenwald School Memorial Garden. King referred the project to M.O.B. (Middle Of Broad St.), a group of students from Virginia Commonwealth University, to lead the project.

Later that month VCU professor Camden Whitehead and 11 Middle of Broad St. group students to Emporia to do some cleanup work at the site. Whitehead said M.O.B. had worked on several community projects in the Richmond area. The group has been to Emporia a few times to help move the project forward.

Currently volunteers are working on replacing the roof and cleaning debris at the site. Robert Smith recently agreed to help with project and has removed the inside debris from a collapsed roof. Though City Council voted to appropriate the funds to demolish the structure in August of 2015, it was not the first time the Greensville County Training School’s future was in doubt. The school was condemned in 1998 and was scheduled for demolition in 2000 when the group Citizens United to Preserve the Greensville County Training School was formed and successfully asked for time to save it.

Last week’s Council vote to rescind the 2015 vote to demolish the structure removes one more obstacle in the efforts of Citizens United to preserve the Greensville Training School to save the historic site.

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From the Emporia Independent Mesenger