Jennie Dean's Community
What is left today of the community created by Miss Jennie Dean stands at the intersection of Wellington Road and Prince William Street in Manassas, Virginia, steps away from the entrance to Jennie Dean Elementary School. The Jennie Dean Memorial sits where Manassas Industrial School once was. At first glance, the only physical remnants of the community Dean envisioned after the Civil War seem lackluster. The story they contain, however, is spectacular. In fact, as A Battleground School puts it, “[t]he story of the building of Manassas Industrial School is almost the life story of Jennie Dean.”
In the third chapter of her book Demonic Grounds, Katherine McKittrick hones in on the auction block in relation to Black spatial theory. The unoccupied auction block gives way to the beginning of a narrative about the way Black people were dehumanized and blackness was manufactured. The memorial to Jennie Dean and the Manassas Industrial School, currently unoccupied, lend themselves to the beginning of a narrative about the end of slavery in the South.
Dean recognized dehumanization of the auction block and the way it continued to perpetuate a narrative of Black folk’s worth, or lack thereof. In response, she created a school and in turn, a community, to end this narrative. With the ambition to create a school exclusively to educate young Black folk after primary school and in trades, Jennie Dean also created a community for Black folk in Northern Virginia. The community that once was exists in two parts: through the Manassas Industrial School, and through Jennie Dean High School. Throughout the two schools’ run, this community extended far beyond the grounds of the current memorial.
By Jasper Ramsey