By 1915, only 1,761 black pupils were enrolled in Virginia high schools, compared to 23,184 white pupils. Lucy Addison was the first principal of Harrison School, constructed in 1916 as the first public secondary school for black children in Roanoke. Addison was educated in Fauquier County, and later at Howard University. The first high school class that she oversaw graduated in 1924.
According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination, "Prior to the establishment of the school on Harrison Avenue, black pupils in the Roanoke area who wished to pursue academic study beyond the second grade were required to attend Virginia State College in distant Petersburg. Throughout its history, the Harrison School has served as a major center of black educational, social, and cultural activities in Roanoke, providing a place of secondary and elementary instruction for many of Roanoke's black professional and civic leaders as well as a point of visitation for such dignitaries as George Washington Carver and Jesse Owens."
The school closed after desegregation in the 1960's and the property was turned over to the Harrison School Limited Partnership in 1983. In 1985 the Harrison Museum of African American Culture opened on the ground floor of the former school. The mission of the Museum is "to research, preserve and interpret the achievements of African Americans, specifically in Southwestern Virginia, and to provide an opportunity for all citizens to come together in appreciation, enjoyment and greater knowledge of African American culture."
The Harrison school is a modified Georgian-style building designed by J.H. Page. As constructed in 1916, the Harrison School consisted of a thirteen-bay rectangular block flanked by projecting wings with five bays on the sides. The present three-bay, two story wings were added in 1922.
Geographical and Contact Information
1 Market Square SE, Second Floor