By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 13 — As Audrey Tutt Smith asked for former students to mark their presence, a few hands, maybe a dozen, went up in the air. And when she asked for family members of former students to be recognized, about a dozen more hands joined in.
“As a former student…we take this opportunity to say ‘Thank you’,” Smith said to those in the crowd who were involved in the project. “We want you to know the dedication you put forth to make this a reality is appreciated…Thank you.”
More than 50 people gathered in front of the West Luray Recreation Center (known as “TheREC”) on Saturday afternoon for the unveiling of a historical maker honoring the building’s previous life as a school for black students in Page County.
“The Andrew Jackson School, named for a local Black entrepreneur, was built here in 1924-25 to serve African American students,” the new historical marker reads. “The Black community raised half of the $5,467 cost of the three-classroom building. Additional support came from the county and from Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, and Co., who had partnered with Booker T. Washington in a school-building campaign and later established the Rosenwald Fund, which helped build about 5,000 schools for African Americans in the South.”
Charlotte Frye Martin — at “90-plus” — was the oldest alum in attendance on Saturday. To claim that honor, Martin edged out Walter Tutt, 89, and Columbus Tutt, also 89.
“I consider this day a remarkable day in the history of the community,” Walter Tutt told the crowd at the unveiling. “Over the many, many years we have gone through, but we have come together today to celebrate a remarkable time in our history.”
On Jan. 12, 1926, the Andrew Jackson School replaced “School No. 5” that sat adjacent to St. John’s Church and opened its doors to black students in grades 1 through 7. The school board added one grade each year, according to Tutt, until they reached the 11th grade — where they stopped.
“Before closing in 1959, Andrew Jackson offered education through the 11th grade,” the historical marker reads, “but Black students had to leave the county for 12th grade. Page County schools were desegregated in 1966.”
Bobby Brown, who attended first grade at the Andrew Jackson School but later graduated from Luray High School, said, “I guess it’s an accomplishment…to go from one place to another. So I’m proud of it.”
As demands from parents grew, the local school board agreed at one point to pay $500 in tuition so some black students in Page County could attend the Massanutten Regional School (for blacks) to complete their education. Judy Bundy and Walter Tutt, both in attendance, remembered having to get to New Market to catch a bus to Harrisonburg so they could earn their high school diplomas. Others went to places like New Jersey, Pittsburgh, D.C., New York and elsewhere to complete their high school education — part of the basis for the New York-Virginia Club that has held reunions in Luray.
“Stay tuned for the next chapter in our story,” Smith said in announcing the creation of the Andrew Jackson School Museum.
In addition to the museum, TheREC is planning to build a park with a basketball court, amphitheater, walking trail and other amenities behind the building. The Town of Luray has donated a small parcel of land and funds toward the project, which is well into the planning and fundraising stages.
Over the last few years, TheREC has become a haven of youth activities and programs that carry out the center’s mission — “Encourage youth personal development and healthy lifestyle choices to positively impact the local community and future generations.”
In just 2020 and 2021, TheRec made contact with more than 3,000 youth, provided food assistance to more than 200 families, hosted more than 75 public meetings, coordinated more than 2,000 volunteer hours, and offered such programs as:
- Mental Health Mondays
- Youth Outreach Activities
- Anger Management
- Men Talk
It was about five years ago that Audre King had a vision for the old dilapidated building that had served serval purposes since 1960, including a dance hall. So he and other volunteers cleaned out the pigeons (and what they left behind) as they started a long list of renovations, including a new kitchen, upgraded restrooms, new insulation and lightning, new carpet and flooring, new railings and porches, a computer center and a fitness room.
Now, after five years of making a “dream” become a reality…after reaching a pinnacle of a new era in amenities and programs at TheREC… King is stepping down on Sept. 5 as the executive director of Living Legacy, LLC, a 501c3 nonprofit organization established to oversee fundraising and program support at TheREC, as well as preservation of the history of the building and the people who attended school there.
The future of TheREC, its programs, the museum, the park…all rest now with the Board of Directors of Living Legacy, lead by Chairman Duane Painter, District 4 representative to the Page County School Board.
As Painter welcomed the crowd and handed out a few “thank yous”, he noted the accomplishments at The West Luray Recreation Center in recent years, including the recently upgraded HVAC, which he invited everyone inside to enjoy during Saturday’s Open House.
Painter, along with Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer and others, commented on what the day meant — not only to the former students, but to the community at-large.
“What a great day to be here and a great day for our community. We’re very proud to be part of it,” Mayor Dofflemyer said on behalf of several council members and town staff in attendance. “This sign is a great testimonial to the students who studied here…it’s great to see so many positive things happening here…we’re behind you.”
Audrey Tutt Smith, who formerly served in the local school system from being a teacher to assistant superintendent, reminded everyone on Saturday that the namesake of her alma mater was not to be confused with former President Andrew Jackson. As the marker produced by the Virginia Department of Historical Resources states, Jackson was a “local black entrepreneur” who Smith said “owned property and a store across the street.”
Smith said when the new Andrew Jackson School Museum opens, “It will open to tell the story of what did and did not take place inside this building.”
To volunteer or donate to the Living Legacy project, activities and programs at TheREC, or the new park and museum, drop by at 630 W. Main St. in Luray, or visit www.livinglegacyluray.org