A Foundation for Education and Opportunity
Clara Shorts Adams and Robert Adams conveyed a quarter-acre to the Falls Church School District of Fairfax County in 1898 for the purpose of educating African American children. The one-room "Colored School Building at Seminary" was the first public schoolhouse for African Americans living in "The Fort" and "Seminary" community. This school closed in 1925, but School House Lane can still be discerned in the park 's landscape. The new Seminary School for African Americans opened in 1927 on King Street where T.C. Williams High School stands today.
In 1926, the Diocesan Missionary Society of Virginia bought the property. The schoolhouse became an African American Episcopal chapel, St. Cyprian's. Seminarians came from the Virginia Theological Seminary across Braddock Road for services. The Claibornes renovated the structure for residential use in the 1940s. The Sgt. Thomas Lee Young family lived here from 1947 until the City of Alexandria's purchase and demolition of the building in the 1960s. The religious elements of the house were retained during Sgt. Young's ownership. He recalled that his bedroom was located in the chapel's pulpit, and the kitchen was in the "Amen Corner. "
Few African Americans were educated in Virginia before the Civil War. While some individuals gained literacy, the almost 550,000 African American Virginians—about 90 percent of whom were enslaved&mdashdid not have access to education. Even after the Civil War, when public education was established in Virginia, black schools were segregated with unequal funding, facilities, and supplies. African Americans continually took measures to secure education for their children by donating land, building schools, and raising funds. The school that once stood here, and its successor, The Seminary School, were such community initiatives.
"They [residents of "The Fort"] were mostly educated people, and they all went to school, though most of them went to school together in the little one-room schoolhouse, but after that, they went to school or ... worked in the government in Washington, because my grandfather's sister worked at the Printing Office. And her friends were all schoolteachers. It was that kind of group, you know."
— Barbara Ashby Gordon. 1994
"At that time we had the Peters family, we had the Randall family, we had the Craven family, and the McKnight family. We had the Thomas family, and I would venture to say that was the gist of the [St. Cyprian's] congregation, made up of those families there."
— Charles McKnight, Secretary and Sunday School Superintendent, 1992
"Our Sunday School teacher, his name was Mr. Warner ... he was a German man but he was just so nice to all of us kids. All the kids. He was dynamic, really, he was. And, of course, I think he was a student at the Seminary up here ... there was quite a few students after he left. There was quite a few came down and taught us kids."
— Edmonia Smith McKnight, 1994