Oak Grove School
According to a blog written by The Herndon Historical Society, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there were at least two schools called Oak Grove for Black students, located next to the railroad track between “two hamlets in town where Black residents lived – Cooktown and Oak Grove” (Hambrick 2015). Children from these communities, as well as some from Sterling, would attend the Oak Grove School. By the 1950s, Oak Grove was a large Black community comprising of more than 300 people. Although there is evidence Oak Grove existed before the 1930s, the first Oak Grove school building I will be referencing was built and opened in 1930. The building itself sits “about 150 yards southeast of the current Oak Grove Baptist Church” (2015).
Lucina Brooks Gormes, a Cooktown resident who attended Oak Grove School from 1947 to 1951 described her memory of the school: “the building had yellow wood siding and was very primitive by today’s standards. It had two classrooms with coal stoves. A third room in the center was unheated and used either as a kitchen or a library. There were two outhouses and a pump for drinking water” (2015). Thomas Payne also attended Oak Grove and was quoted in a 2010 Washington Post article recalling “the trees around the school, how they were used for bases when they played games… the steep embankment leading down to the railroad tracks which served as a good barrier for playing” (2015).
In 1952, the school was closed and a new school was built, which opened in 1953. Likely, the school was built due to pressure from Black communities demanding better school conditions as well as in anticipation of the upcoming Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decisions. The next building was built “at the intersection of Rock Hill and Sterling Roads near the Loudoun/Herndon border” (2015). Instead of three rooms, this building had six rooms with “indoor plumbing, central heating, and a room that acted as an auditorium, lunch room and clinic, and an outdoor dirt play area that was paved in 1957” (2015). During this time period, Oak Grove Elementary School provided education for about 150 Fairfax and Loudoun County Black students, and employed Black teachers and principals, like Mr. Earl Pulley.
After Frederick Douglass Elementary School was built as a segregated school for Black children in 1958, the students from Loudoun County who had formerly gone to Oak Grove were transferred to the “closer school”, which actually was not closer for some students– but Loudoun County had stopped paying Oak Grove to educate the children who lived in that county by then, so they had no choice. In 1964, after Fairfax County had finally began integration, Oak Grove Elementary was closed and the students were transferred to a school built in 1961 called Herndon Elementary School. Similar to the Drew-Smith School, the same year Oak Grove was “closed down”, the building was converted to use for the same Head Start Program for “culturally deprived children” implemented the same year at Drew-Smith, and it eventually turned into a full-blown school for students with disabilities. Some time in the mid-1980s, the building was bought by the Town of Herndon and converted into use for the police department. In 2004, the police force in Herndon grew too large for the small six-room building, and it is now used as the Town of Herndon’s Zoning Enforcement Office.