Consolidation, Transportation, Integration
On February 2, 1938, the parent leagues of Quantico Colored, Hickory Ridge, Cabin Branch, and Summit asked the board to implement a plan of school consolidation. This request came with a significant amount of risk since, as Lucy Phinney observes, "the loss of a school was often the final nail in the coffin of a small community." Individuals relied on schoolhouses like Summit to educate students, host neighborhood gatherings, and employ local teachers, cooks, and janitors. Perhaps, however, the parents who appeared before the board realized that consolidation was the only way to acquire the resources they so desperately sought; higher enrollments often meant more educational materials, additional personnel, and larger (maybe even new) facilities. Additionally, when the committee of parents submitted their request, they voiced the need for the county to provide transportation for students impacted by closures, as well as for pupils attending secondary school in Manassas. A year after the initial ask, the board approved a plan to expand Cabin Branch in order to consolidate Black schools in the county's Dumfries district. As the only non-Dumfries institution involved with the initial request, Summit saw no change in its operation.
Because Summit was the only school for African Americans in the Occoquan region, the issue of transportation was a critical one. Children who lived within the town's boundaries walked approximately one mile to get to Summit, most of it uphill. Some students lived as far away as Route One, making their roundtrip commute closer to five miles. Once students completed their final year at Summit, the matter of transportation became even more challenging: daily trips to secondary schools in Manassas were cost-prohibitive and time-consuming. As a result, some families chose to move their children away from their home community and closer to the school they would be attending; others decided to completely discontinue their formal education.
White students, meanwhile, enjoyed the benefits of uninterrupted schooling much closer to home. In 1927, Occoquan High School (now Occoquan Elementary) opened one mile outside of town and housed grades one through twelve. The school was one of the first in Prince William County to benefit from busing. By 1935, 18 buses served 864 white students; according to the county superintendent at the time, "with a few exceptions, every [white] family located more than one and one-half miles from school enjoy[ed] transportation to both graded and high school."
The 1938 request made by Summit and the three Dumfries schools was not the first attempt by African Americans to secure transportation for their children. In 1929, a request from parents in the Gainesville district was summarily rejected by the board, with no explanation provided as to why. The following nine years saw several similar requests from Black schools across the county. In July of 1938, the board eventually approved the operation of the first bus route for African American students. This achievement, however, came at the expense of the Thornton school, which, after more than 60 years in operation, was closed in exchange for the route. Seven years later, the Black community in Occoquan experienced its own victory: the county agreed to reimburse families a total of $6.68 each month in order to cover the cost of driving their children to Manassas. This finally culminated in the establishment of a bus route from Occoquan to Jennie Dean's Industrial School sometime before 1949; although available school board minutes do not reflect it, multiple sources credit this accomplishment to the efforts of Black business owner and Occoquan resident, Ogle Harris.
The Fight for Transportation
It is important to note that transportation was never achieved for students attending Summit. After the 1938 request for consolidation, the board held no further discussions regarding the busing of Summit's pupils. By the fall of 1950, 35 enrolled children faced the barrier of managing their own transportation to the school. One year later, Summit disappeared entirely from the Manassas Journal's annual account of student enrollment figures for Prince William County. The school's closing meant that the era of public education for and by African Americans in the Occoquan district had come to an end. Moving forward, primary school students were compelled to turn away from their local community and turn towards the county's newest institution for Black children: Washington-Reid.
Named in part for one of Summit's most influential advocates, Marion Washington, Washington-Reid opened in the Dumfries district of the county in 1951. The school's location likely played a role in finally securing transportation for the primary students of Occoquan; the 10-mile trip to Washington-Reid from the Summit schoolhouse would have taken approximately three hours on foot. Unfortunately, only one vehicle was allotted for the busing of students from both the Occoquan and Dumfries districts, meaning that a single bus navigated first from Occoquan on to Dumfries, Triangle, Quantico, then finally concluding its route in Manassas. Black high schoolers living in Occoquan left town around seven a.m., returning to their homes 12 hours later.  This lengthy drop-off system reduced the amount of time children were able to spend with families and friends, likely weakening community bonds. Reflecting upon this arrangement in 1985, white members of the Historic Occoquan group stated: "It didn't seem like having separate schools at that time made too much difference, as long as [Black people in Occoquan] had a way to get to whatever school that was." Far from being a cure-all for the injustices African Americans had endured at the hands of the school board, the apportionment of meager busing resources instead served to accelerate the process of Black community-killing in the Occoquan region.
Faced with this level of institutional discrimination, African Americans across the county continued to carve out places of agency and refusal. Three years after the opening of Washington-Reid Elementary, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. In response, the Prince William County School Board passively adhered to the ruling by allowing Black students to attend the institution of their choice. For seven years, color lines in county schools held firm. While integration might have provided Black children with access to resources normally reserved for white students, it is likely that families were keenly aware of the possible damage such a move would have brought. In addition to attacks of vitriol and violence against individual students, families knew that treasured community schools and Black educators would have limited roles inside an integrated system. What may have appeared to outsiders as self-imposed segregation, was likely a well-coordinated act of resistance intended to preserve Black communities, schools, and the jobs those schools provided.
Unfortunately, this decision to maintain the status quo meant that African American students continued to attend under-resourced institutions. Although the facilities at Washington-Reid were a vast improvement over Summit's, much of the learning environment remained the same; the school had no library for the first few years it was in operation, pupils worked out of hand-me-down textbooks, and limited personnel meant students were often pulled out of class to assist with custodial duties. Frustrated by these conditions, Black communities began discussing alternative plans of action. Churches often set aside time within Sunday services to reflect on relevant issues such as voting, integration, and civil rights. At Ebenezer Baptist, these discussions were led by Annie Bailey Rose, the eldest daughter of Summit's founder, Reverend Lewis Henry Bailey. Following the service, men from Ebenezer's congregation often gathered to analyze the latest update on a boycott or speech from Martin Luther King Junior.
One of the men participating in these discussions during the second half of the 1950s was James P. Russell. A transplant to northern Virginia, Russell would eventually become Ebenezer's ninth pastor in 1978. Initially, however, the future minister was elected president of the NAACP's Prince William County chapter, where he began to implement the ideas he and his faith family had been discussing at Ebenezer. With his sights set on desegregation, Russell recruited his three children, Joyce, Cameron, and Deborah, to be the first Black students in the county to attend white schools. The three Russell children integrated Occoquan Elementary and Gar-Field High School in 1961.
After years of experiencing an empty library at Washington-Reid, Joyce was finally able to check out “as many books as [she] wanted.” The Russell family had succeeded in claiming educational resources that had been denied to Black students in the county for nearly 100 years. Additionally, their attendance at local schools marked the homecoming of African American children to their local communities; the short distance between their home and Occoquan Elementary meant that Cameron and Deborah no longer had to face the possibility of 12-hour days in Dumfries or Manassas. Perhaps most significant of all, with the integration events of 1961, Black education made a triumphant return to the Occoquan district.
By Stephanie Martinez
Prince William County School Board, transcribed by Morgan Breeden, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board July 5, 1933 – June 24, 1939, Book 4, https://www.historicprincewilliam.org/county-history/schools/book4.pdf, 249.
Lucy Walsh Phinney, Yesterday's Schools: Public Elementary Education in Prince William County, Virginia, 1869-1969: A Social and Educational History of a Rural County in Virginia (Richmond, VA: R. E. F. Typesetting & Publishing, Incorporated, 1993), 35.
Jerome E. Morris, Benjamin D. Parker, and Luimil M. Negrón, “Black School Closings Aren’t New: Historically Contextualizing Contemporary School Closings and Black Community Resistance,” Educational Researcher 51, no. 9 (2022): pp. 575-583, https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189x221131504, 578.
Prince William County School Board, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board July 5, 1933 – June 24, 1939, Book 4, 249.
Prince William County School Board, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board July 5, 1933 – June 24, 1939, Book 4, 299.
Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster, "NVCROH Interview with Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster (2/6)," by Marion Dobbins, Northern Virginia Civil Rights Archive, November 21, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r03X2TiP280.
Potomac News, Home Place: Prince William County, A Series of Articles from the Potomac News, 1986 (Woodbridge, VA: MinuteMan Press, 1990), 89.
Historic Occoquan, Inc., "Transcript of Interview with Historic Occoquan, Inc. (Schools)," interview by Tom Nelson on September 24, 1985 (Prince William County Historical Commission Oral History Project, 1985), 6.
Richard C. Haydon, "An Administrative Study of the Public School System in Prince William County, Virginia," Master's thesis, (University of Virginia, 1935), 21.
Prince William County School Board, transcribed by Morgan Breeden, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board September 4, 1927 – June 7, 1933, Book 3, https://www.historicprincewilliam.org/county-history/schools/book3.pdf, 78.
Prince William County School Board, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board July 5, 1933 – June 24, 1939, Book 4, 269.
Prince William County School Board, transcribed by Morgan Breeden, Minutes of the Prince William County School Board July 7, 1943 – June 16, 1947, Book 6, https://www.historicprincewilliam.org/county-history/schools/book6.pdf, 98.
Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster, "NVCROH Interview with Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster (5/6)," by Marion Dobbins, Northern Virginia Civil Rights Archive, November 21, 2014, https://youtu.be/Glxz5M7jhmI.
Harris and Webster, "NVCROH Interview with Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster (2/6)."
Historic Occoquan, Inc., 6.
Morris, Parker, and Negrón, 580.
Morris, Parker, and Negrón, 577.
Joyce Russell Terrell, A Blues Song of My Own (Signal Mountain, TN: CASI Publishing, 2009), 48.
Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster, "NVCROH Interview with Marguerite Harris and Joyce Webster (6/6)," by Marion Dobbins, Northern Virginia Civil Rights Archive, November 21, 2014, https://youtu.be/-oNzPDswH9E.
"Ebenezer Baptist Marks 100 Years," Potomac News (Woodbridge, VA), November 28, 1983.
Terrell, 81, 85.
"One family's request began desegregation," Potomac News (Woodbridge, VA), February 10, 1993.
 Terrell, 113-114.