Women’s History Month: Irma Thompson’s legacy of restoration continues for the Buena Vista Colored School

Women's History Month: Rockbridge County Buena Vista School
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
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BUENA VISTA, Va. (WDBJ) - Irma Thompson is best remembered in Rockbridge County as a prominent educator and a driving force to restore the Buena Vista Colored School.

Since Irma’s passing in 2019, her daughter Danta Thompson is working to finish her mom’s mission.

Danta best remembers her mother’s involvement, perseverance and dedication for education in the community.

“She went through a lot during the time that she started school in order to get an education,” Thompson said.

Irma attended the Buena Vista Colored School during segregation and went on to pursue higher education by traveling to Lexington and West Virginia.

“Sometimes I would tell her, ‘Mom, I don’t think I would have done it.’ She would never answer me and she just looked at me and said ‘Yes, you would’,” Thompson laughed.

Years after Irma completed her education, she sent her children to learn at the Colored School.

“I started back in 1952,” Thompson said. “It would have been nice to have the same thing that the white students had, but it didn’t keep us from succeeding.”

Irma passed on the importance of education to her many students throughout Southwest Virginia.

“Education was very important to Blacks during the early years, especially in terms of segregation, because they felt that education was the only way their children could be provided upward mobility,” Thompson said. “Education was key.”

When the Colored School started to fall into disrepair, Irma set out on a mission to restore it, a mission Danta now aims to complete.

“I’m going to see that the restoration takes place,” Thompson said. “That’s for my mom.”

The Buena Vista Colored School Historical Society has made progress restoring the porch, windows and the front door. But Thompson explained there’s still more work to be done.

“We’re looking to bring in a new group of people who are interested and willing to work to do the final stage of restoration,” Thompson said.

The next steps include a new roof, electricity inside the classroom and plastering the rooms.

“[We want] to provide a place, especially for students, where they can come here, they can actually see the history.”

Irma’s legacy lives on through her children and her community’s dedication to restore the school house.

“I’m not trying to follow in my mom’s footsteps because I never could,” Thompson said. “But I am trying to do what I think would have been pleasing to her.”

All the restoration efforts are funded through community donations and grants.

Anyone who wants to get involved with the Buena Vista Colored School Historical Society can contact Danta Thompson at bvsc24416@gmail.com or call 540-261-7351.