I spent October 11, 2016, at Botetourt County Schools' offices in Fincastle, Virginia, reviewing archival documents. While conducting early research I became curious as to whether there were any circa 1930's/1940's records remaining from the schools of the time. After an email exchange with admin Betty Holland we determined it would be worth the time for me to come in and take a look at what they had. What I found was a treasure trove that I hope will always be preserved.
The image above is from the Academy Hills School for Negroes class of 1943 report. Line item 4 is the listing for Norvel Lee. There was more information such as the names of the students on the left but my PhotoShop skills prevented me from capturing the two images here. That record also shows the teacher as Mr. Roger Terry who taught for many years at Academy Hill. He plays a significant role in Norvel's life, which is described in Chapter 2 of the book.
I found this record from one of the many boxes of material Betty Holland had placed in the room and set aside for my use. The boxes were labeled for each school year and inside each I found the records divided into two sections: Colored and White. The records were very well organized and obviously prepared with care at the time in both sections. I believe I was the first to have looked at them for many years.
I was so taken by the documents and the care with which the teachers recorded the information in them that I decided to dedicate the book to the memory of those teachers, especially Roger Terry and Georgia Meadows. Mrs. Meadows story will be worth following up on in the future. Her history is scant at this point, and just like it was with Norvel I want to know more. I learned from the Botetourt County Historical Society she was born in the 1910's in Botetourt County, attended the segregated schools and somehow got accepted and graduated college from Columbia University in New York and then went to graduate school at Harvard. But after those accomplishments she chose to return to Botetourt County and teach the young people in the segregated schools, most notably the elementary school in Eagle Rock, near where Norvel lived. I'm guessing she likely had to walk away from opportunities that would have carried her far in an academic lifestyle.
The records show that Norvel, his brothers James and George, and sister Edna all had Georgia Meadows as a teacher. I subsequently learned that Edna became friends with Georgia Meadows later in life and they saw each other when Edna returned to Gala to visit.
I went through all the boxes and found many entries for Norvel and his siblings. Significantly, most of the line items for Norvel included a note in the comment section concerning his stammer. I had learned about his speech impediment from his granddaughter Daryn during our early communications but it still surprised me to see reference to it in the records. Later during the research and interviews I noticed it was one of the first things people mentioned about him.
A subject for another time is that during my studies I found a box containing the minutes of the public meetings the Botetourt County School Board conducted at the time. From those documents I learned that throughout the 1930's the blacks in the community actively promoted the establishment of a high school in Fincastle. Those efforts finally resulted in the Academy Hill School for Negroes holding its first classes in 1939 with Mr. Roger Terry at the helm.
Next week I'll report on discovering the cemetery where Norvel's mother is laid to rest.