Jackson P. Burley High School now listed on National Register of Historic Places

(this story was originally posted in the December 1, 2020 edition of Charlottesville Community Engagement)

The high school established by Albemarle and Charlottesville in the middle of the 20th century for Black students is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Jackson P. Burley opened in 1951 on Rose Hill Drive, eleven years after the city had built a new school for whites only. Jimmy Hollins of the Burley Varsity Club alumni group said Burley also was for Black students from Greene and Nelson. 

“Burley was a big part of the Black community back in those days,” Hollins said. “When they played sports, football or basketball games, those games was crowded. Pretty crowded.  And we not only had Black fans, we would have white fans that would come and stand outside of the gates and look at the games.”

Hollins said that’s because Burley was the only school in the area with a winning record. The National Register of Historic Places is an honorific designation that recognizes the historic significance of a property. (read the nomination form)

“The building represents a rare instance in which two localities—Charlottesville and Albemarle County—sought to achieve “separate but equal” educational facilities during segregation—and at a time when successful legal suits underway elsewhere in Virginia challenged the unequal and overcrowded conditions in black schools,” reads the page for Burley on the website for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The two localities built the school in order to justify continued segregation of students by race, a practice that was declared unconstitutional in 1954 in the Brown vs. the Board of Education case. Burley did not close until 1967 after all surrounding counties had lost their fight to keep schools separate. 

Albemarle County now owns the building and operates as one of their middle schools despite being within city limits. All across Virginia, the majority of Black schools like the Christiansburg Institute and Dunbar High School in Lynchburg were closed rather than become desegregated themselves. That’s one reason Hollins says this designation is so critical.

“Originally in the state of Virginia, they had as far as Black high schools, they had 115 of the Black high schools,” Hollins said. “Now out of those 115, there are only three that are still high schools today that are working high schools.” 

Many of the alumni from those schools today continue to meet under the auspices of the Virginia Interscholastic Association.

Hollins graduated from Burley in 1965. 

“Personally I never through Burley would close,” Hollins said. “I always thought Burley would stay open as a high school.’

Hollins said when the pandemic is over, there will be an occasion to celebrate the listing. 

Credit: Virginia Department of Historic Resources

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