Dedication ceremony held for Lylburn Downing School historic marker in Lexington

Published: Jun. 19, 2022 at 7:51 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - “It tells everybody who passes by, visitors, that’s Lylburn Downing School, that’s where the Black children went to school and that is important in our life,” said Louise Mikell.

Lylburn Downing School has been a part of the Lexington community for almost a century. It opened in 1927 to provide education for Black children and closed in 1965 when schools were desegregated.

The newer building, which used to be the high school, was turned into Lylburn Downing Middle School, which is still open. The original schoolhouse is home to the central office of Lexington City Schools.

Sunday afternoon around 100 people came out for the unveiling of its historic marker from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

“The most important thing about that sign in recognition is not simply the building, it’s not simply the namesake of the school, it’s the commitment of the parents, the citizens, the home-school league that brought that school into being,” said Eric Wilson, executive director of the Rockbridge Historical Society.

Former students were also in attendance for the special day. That includes Louise Mikell, who graduated from Lylburn Downing in 1947 and taught there from 1954 to 1959.

“There’s a lot of information on here about the community itself really, and what the people were about and what the people thought about education for their children, the Black children of this little town,” said Mikell.

The Lylburn Downing marker joins more than a dozen others across Rockbridge County, which Wilson said reflects a trend across Virginia.

“From a state perspective it’s part of a wave of the state recognizing a much wider and more inclusive variety of histories. Of communities and not just individuals, of people of color, of women’s histories,” said Wilson.

It’s a history former students of the school and the Lexington community will always be proud of.

“It strengthens the community and I think it gives the community to think about celebrating people,” said Mikell.

According to the historic marker, Lylburn Downing (1867-1937) was “born enslaved in Lexington, attended Lincoln University and was pastor of Roanoke’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for more than 40 years. He was a longtime advocate for African American education.”

The dedication ceremony was followed by a celebration of Juneteenth at Richardson Park.

Dozens came out for food, fun and music to celebrate the special day. Lexington Vice Mayor Marylin Alexander said she wanted to host the dedication and Juneteenth on the same day.

“This is to commemorate all the resilience and tenacity of those folks who made all those things happen at Lylburn Downing. And it’s the same resilience and tenacity of those people who were emancipated in 1865.”

Alexander said it’s also about the community coming together in celebration of Juneteenth.

“If people could actually see the comradery and the sense of family we have here. In Lexington, we have everyone here, Black families, white families, everybody knows each other, so we all celebrate together, and if this can’t be a symbol of what Juneteenth is about, nothing else will work.”

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