Forgotten History: Non-profit vies for support to restore Christiansburg school building

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) - If you've lived in Montgomery County your whole life, you've most likely driven by a building that most likely is older than you.

"This history indeed is national history but it's also a story for so many close to home," said Christopher Sanchez.

The story of the Edgar A. Long building is one Christiansburg Institute Incorporated's director has become passionate about telling.

"We're really working to meaningfully reconstruct a history that's been mostly forgotten outside of Montgomery County," Sanchez said.

And that reconstruction is happening right now. The new roof, or phase one of the project, is close to being done.

"Now from the 460 you can see the progress and it looks so good," said Debbie Sherman Lea.

Sanchez and alumni like Sherman Lea are working to restore one of the last remaining buildings of the Christiansburg Industrial Institute: the first school built for southwest Virginia's freed slaves. At its height the school was made up of 200 acres and more than 14 buildings. It closed in the late '60s, following integration.

According to CII's website: "But rather than integrate CI, in 1966 the public school boards abandoned it. Alumni had to watch as their alma mater's campus was sold off, neglected, and mostly demolished. The Hill School building, meanwhile, was donated to the church now known as Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church, thus reunited with its sister institution on Zion's Hill. The civil rights victory was bittersweet, as the 185-acre Christiansburg Institute campus was sold and its buildings were destroyed. The Edgar A. Long building is the last surviving structure."

"Actually this is a nationwide history," said Sherman Lea.

Sherman Lea attended the school in the late '60s just before closure. She and fellow alumni Glenn Holmes have fond memories.

"Against a backdrop of future high school years I can without hesitation say the quality of the education I received at CII was far superior," said Holmes, who now works as an instructor at Virginia Tech.

They're hoping their now-mostly virtual efforts will help expand support for phase two of renovation, with the eventual goal of bringing new life to the Long building.

It's an effort they believe those who've come before them will applaud.

"I think they're looking down on us and saying good job," said Sherman Lea, "but you have a long way to go!"

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