Lucy Addison was born in Fauquier County, Virginia in 1861. She graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia in 1882. She taught in Loudon County, Virginia before moving to Roanoke, Virginia in 1886 beginning a lifetime of commitment to improving the education of Roanoke’s black youth and their educational facilities. For thirty-two years she taught while convincing the school board to increase schoolroom capacity for ever-growing numbers of black students. She became principal of the new Harrison School completed in 1918 and, by 1924, upgraded its eighth grade to become a fully-accredited high school before retiring. While the new high school completed 1929 was named in her honor, her most import contribution was the work and character ethic passed on to her students, many of whom later became teachers seeding her values throughout Roanoke’s black schools.
Louise Drexel Morrell (1863 - 1945) was the youngest of three daughters of wealthy Philadelphia banker Francis Anthony Drexel. The daughters continued the philanthropy of their father’s family at his death. Katharine, the middle daughter, became a Catholic nun and was canonized a saint in the Catholic Church in 2000. The bulk of the family fortune supported Catholic foundations, particularly orphanages and schools across the nation. Louise, the youngest daughter, founded and funded St. Emma Industrial School for African-American boys near Petersburg, Virginia which later became a military academy that greatly influenced my father’s life and, indirectly, mine.
Emily C. Prudden was a deaf, missionary schoolmarm from Connecticutt who started fifteen primary and secondary schools in the South. In 1888, she founded Lincoln Academy for African-American girls below Crowders Mountain, about six miles from the home where my grandmother would later be born. The school flourished, attracting children from large distances who boarded there, It eventually became co-ed and was turned over to the American Missionary Association. My grandmother attended the school in its early years. My mother, her siblings and many cousins can be counted among the outstanding graduates of the school which closed in 1955.
Father Nicholas J. Habets, a Catholic priest born in Holland, founded Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church and School in Portsmouth, Virginia for “descendents of ex-slaves” in 1930. The school was thriving by the time my dad relocated there with a job at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in 1944. I was baptized there and attended the parish church and school until December 1953. Father Habets and the white school nuns made a lasting impression on my family and me. Father Habets was reassigned in 1950.
Father Albert Pereira, a first generation Portugese-American born in Newport News, replaced Father Habets at Our Lady of Victory in 1950. He built a new church which I remember well. Father Pereira was dearly loved by his black parishioners including our family. Leaving that wonderful parish community in 1953 to move to Roanoke, Virginia created a sense of loss that my entire family still feels, largely due to the caring of white priests and nuns and the school’s excellent educational foundation.
Camelot - 1965