Commemorating Parker-Gray High School
A dedication to the foundation set over 50 years ago
In 2015, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) commemorated 50 years after the desegregation of Parker-Gray High School. The day was marked by unveiling a plaque honoring its place in the city's history.
Close to 100 Parker-Gray alumni, the Mayor, City Council members and members of the Alexandria City School Board gathered in front of the ACPS offices at Braddock Place on Thursday evening to celebrate the anniversary and unveiling of the plaque at an outdoor café-style reception.
Some alumni had the chance to meet up with people they had not seen since graduation. One came wearing her high school graduation ring, while another still had a yearbook from 1956.
"The dedication of the plaque was a beautiful event. It meant a lot to me and I am sure it meant a lot to my classmates as well. It was wonderful to see classmates that I had not seen since high school graduation," said LaVerne Herbert Spencer, Parker-Gray Class of 1946.
Guests were treated to a reflection of life at the all-black high school through a collection of photographs dating from 1920 to 1965 compiled by the Alexandria Black History Museum. The pictures revolved in a slideshow throughout the event, while printed versions were arranged in vases with blue and white flowers. Tents were decked out in ribbons and balloons of blue and white, the colors of Parker-Gray.
"It was a delight and great blessing to experience the unveiling of the Parker-Gray High School Memorial Plaque. Although our paths after graduation led us in various directions, we never seem to have forgotten our class motto - 'We have laid our foundation and now we build,'" said Dr. Janice L. Winters, class of 1956 valedictorian and former Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education at George Mason University.
The event, sponsored by Washington REIT - which owns the ACPS Central Office building - came about when developers discovered an old plaque commemorating the Parker-Gray High School. The original plaque was attached to the front of a building on Wythe Street that was about to be demolished, near the site of the original high school at Charles Houston Recreation Center.
They rescued the plaque and intended to have it reinstalled, but found that the information on the plaque was inaccurate. Instead, Greg Geisler of Washington REIT offered to pay to have a new plaque made and installed in front of 1340 Braddock Place - the site of the second Parker-Gray High School and the current location of ACPS Central Office.
"Washington REIT was very fortunate and honored to partner with ACPS to correct a mistake of historical importance," said Geisler.
Audrey Davis, director of the Alexandria Black History Museum, took on the job of compiling the history of the school in order to get the facts accurate on the new version of the plaque.
"We are losing historically important African American sites all the time. While the buildings for Parker-Gray do not exist anymore, we have a legacy in the people and this should be treasured," said Davis.
Davis told the audience that almost every African American has stories about their experience with school which would not fit with today's idea of an education.
Her aunt, who walked to school, was asked to leave the school system when she wanted to take action to stop other children verbally abusing her as their school bus passed. She was dismissed as she was viewed as a radical who was trying to advocate for change.
"These are not uncommon stories. Probably everyone at Parker-Gray has a story like this one. When I told my stories, I saw a lot of people nodding," Davis said.
Superintendent Alvin L. Crawley welcomed the alumni as an important part of the ACPS school community.
Before Parker-Gray added high school classes in 1932, students who wanted a secondary education had to travel into Washington, D.C. on the bus every day and then walk considerable distances just to get to school.
"It is so good to see so many of the Parker-Gray community here. Those who played a part in the past are now playing a part in the future of our schools," said Crawley.
Parker-Gray opened as an elementary school on the site of the current Charles Houston Recreation Center on Wythe Street in 1920 and added high school classes in 1932. The first high school class graduated in 1936. Then, in 1950, the new high school was built at what is now Braddock Place. In 1965, Parker-Gray High School closed and began the transition to become a middle school during desegregation. It closed its doors for good in 1979.
"This was a memorable event that shows a rebirth from old concepts to new progress. ACPS is a symbol that every child matters and every child can learn. That is why it is an honor that the Central Office building stands on this land. This plaque will be a reminder of our history for a long time to come," said Alexandria City School Board Chair Karen Graf.