Group trying to preserve Buena Vista Colored School

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BUENA VISTA, Va. (WDBJ7) It’s a nondescript building just off Route 60 in Buena Vista. You might think it a slightly dilapidated city storehouse – and it was used to store relief supplies after flooding in 1983. But if you come closer and read the signs, you realize it’s a building with a history.

Irma Thompson remembers.

“So, when I started, I was over in that side,” she says, pointing into one of the two -- formerly three, until a wall was torn out -- classrooms in the building.

She was a student here in 1924 – yes, Irma’s a proud 99 years old – and later a teacher at the segregated school that succeeded this one, closer into town.

Now president of the Buena Vista Colored School Historical Society, she walked through with Stephen Smith. “Were you in this room?”
“Yes, I was in this room,” he answers, peering into the dilapidated area.
Smith was here the last year the Colored School was used, 1957. Now they’re working together to help restore and preserve the school.

There's a lot that does remain. “They have the original boards," Smith explains. "The original ceiling.”

However, there are those who would like to forget, or at least change the name from the uncomfortably antiquated “Colored School.”

“We are not changing the name," Thompson answers defiantly. "It was the Colored School, it has always been the Colored School.”

“If you talk to young people who are going to school now, all they know is integration," says Smith. "And this is why we have to preserve it, because you need to know.”

But it’s an ongoing process.

“We just don’t have the money! That’s the problem,” according to Thompson.

Volunteers have been working to it piecemeal – students from the neighboring Southern Virginia University are working on the windows – but to realize the full vision requires a lot more cash, and patience.

Thompson told us about Sylvester Kyle, who first approached the city about preserving the building. His funeral was this past Saturday. She is, she said, hoping to finish the job before she leaves.