Jefferson School at 233 Fourth Street is a familiar landmark in the Starr Hill neighborhood of downtown Charlottesville. It is officially recognized by the United States Department of Interior, National Park Service, as having historic significance, and is, therefore, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
At the end of the Civil War, the New England Freedmen's Aid Society sent a teacher, Anna Gardner, to Charlottesville to open a school for former slaves. She named the school "Jefferson School" after the nation's third president, Thomas Jefferson, whom she admired. In 1865, the first Jefferson School was a one-room school in the Delevan Hotel on West Main Street that had served as a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. In 1869, the school grew to three grades and moved to a building near the Charlottesville train station. In 1894, land at the corner of Fourth and Commerce Streets (now part of the school's current parking lot), was transferred to the City for the construction of the Jefferson Colored Graded/Elementary School. It provided instruction through grade 8 and served the African-American community well until 1926.
Tradition of Transformation
Considering the Jefferson Graded School only taught through 8th grade, and no high school classes were offered to African-Americans at that time, families were forced to send their children away to schools outside of Charlottesville. Because of these conditions, in 1924 parents and community leaders petitioned the City school board for a high school for African-American students. That same year, the City agreed to build a high school that would house three high school grades for African-American students.
Jefferson High School, completed in 1926, was one of only 10 African-American high schools in Virginia at that time.
The legacy of Jefferson School is a remarkable one. It has served for over 125 years as the cornerstone for African-American citizens of Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County, providing a venue and focal point for their emergence as a dynamic and vital part of the community's social history during the 20th century. It represents a spirit of tenacity and dedication to the highest national ideals of equality and fairness. And today, it marks the coming together of the African-American and white communities of Charlottesville to plan for the future use of this important structure that is a testament to the durability of the human spirit.
Excerpts from Jefferson School National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, August 15, 2005. Click here to learn more.