Jefferson County Alumni Speak

In 1866, Page Jackson High School became the first publicly funded school for African American students in Jefferson County. The school was symbolic for African Americans before integration.

Article and photos By Vanta E. Coda III

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Black By God The West Virginian

“It was like a family when we got off the bus”, said Delores Jackson, Page Jackson Alumni President, reminiscing with other Page Jackson alumni at the site of their former school. Before school integration in Jefferson County in 1966, Page Jackson High School was one of the last black schools in West Virginia. Jefferson County stalled integration of their schools for 11 years — from 1955 through 1966.

Delores Jackson Foster
Page Jackson High School Class of 1955
 

“I’m not sure they knew what was happening to the education and the kids,” said Delores, “separate is never equal and even if a school has the facilities equal to another school, it’s just not the same.”

Delores is the President of the Page Jackson Alumni Association; she graduated in 1955 and was a teacher at the high school before she moved to New Jersey in 1961. She eventually moved back to Harpers Ferry, where now she and her brother Daniel, who is also an alumnus, started making their voices known in a community with a troubled past of segregation.

“I was very fortunate to be raised into the Page Jackson family when I was growing up, but that family atmosphere and comradery all went away as soon as I went to Shepherdstown College,” said Delores. “It was like I was being thrown to the fire every single day at that college, but with the guidance I was given growing up I persevered and pushed my way through the racist vulgarity that was thrown in my face every day.” 

Before integration in the late ’60s, Jefferson County was a hotbed of segregation throughout the community, especially in Charles Town. “I remember the days where we couldn’t go to the front of the restaurant in Charles Town and we had to go around back to pick up our food, but just down the road in Harpers Ferry we were allowed to walk in the front door,” said Jackson. “I believe that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the influence and teaching I learned from the Harpers Ferry community and Page Jackson.” 

Delores’s Brother Daniel Jackson Jr., who graduated in 1959, accounts for the isolation Black student-athletes felt outside of their school grounds not only in Jefferson County but the entire eastern panhandle of West Virginia. “We played very few teams over the years in the eastern panhandle, we mainly would play teams that were near D.C or in Virginia or Maryland,” said Daniel. “I do remember though playing Shannodale, and they were extremely nasty towards us, I don’t think there was any sort’ve quiet time during that game, if it wasn’t a cheap elbow that you got hit with it was a slur.”

Daniel D. Jackson Jr.
Page Jackson High School Class of 1959

Since Charles Town had two Black schools that were right near white schools in the area, many Black students taking the bus to Page Jackson High School or Eagle Avenue Elementary had to go past white schools. 

“It was an experience knowing that you had to drive past the white school, before coming to the black school,” said Daniel, “but we learned how to take it all in stride.” 

And stride they did, since the last graduation class in 1966, alumni have banded together to create an account of experiences they faced during their schooling— in hopes of allowing this part of West Virginia history not to be easily forgotten. 

Many of the Page Jackson High School alumni who still live in Jefferson County have gone on to be public figures in the community. Larry Togans, who once was the Jefferson County School Board President, still reflects upon his school years and his teacher and coach, Jim Taylor, who made an impact on him as a student. 

“Jim Taylor was a big part of my experience at Page Jackson,” said Togans, “he took us all under his wing and took us through each year until we graduated, either it be coaching or in the classroom.” 

Larry Togans
Page Jackson High School Class of 1965

For a lot of students that went to Page Jackson High School the things that they remember the most were the teachers and the many life lessons they gained from them.

“Our teachers taught us to cherish what you got, and we took advantage of what they gave us,” said Daniel, “We got doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, and all kinds of scholars that live here who went to Page Jackson and who are what they are now because of our teachers.” 

Many students stayed behind while other students integrated into the late Charles Town High School. Alumni such as Jeanette Dozier stayed until the last graduating class in 1966.

“It was always different every year getting to the end, every year the classes would be much smaller, because of kids integrating into Charles Town High School,” said Jeanette, “even though people were leaving it seemed like we weren’t missing out on a lot at Charles Town High School and we didn’t feel a need to leave.”

Jeanette Dozier
Page Jackson High School Class of 1965

Just like their teachers who taught the Page Jackson alumni, generations of Black West Virginians will look for the same guidance from Black community elders— on ways to combat present-day racism. 

“I never had that sense of family that they had,” said Jeanatte’s daughter, Chrischele, “but I learned from their upbringing through these schools and I was very fortunate to have them as my parents for many reasons.” 

Even though the fight against racism might seem a little bit less than what it was when Jeanette attended school Chrischele says that is simply not the case. 

“Whenever I walked into a new classroom it didn’t matter what year or class, I could always feel eyes on me,” said Chrischele. “Even though I would take classes in AP programs, I would feel like I would be held aside from my other classmates because I was the only Black in the class. It wasn’t until I went to Westfield State, a black college, did I understand the connection that my mother had with her classmates at Page Jackson.”

Believing in the fact that racism never really goes away, it only changes for every generation, Chrischele has made it a priority to not only tell the stories of what her mother experienced at Page Jackson High School but to also tell her accounts of systematic racism in the school systems. She tells these to her daughter, Brogan, in hopes of keeping the history of what the alumni went through alive for future generations of Black West Virginians.

“Their stories gave me strength because I would say if they could do it then the least I can do is be successful,” said Dozier, “my daughter respects their journey and my journey doesn’t compare to theirs but we can learn from it.”

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