The Parker-Gray School
The Early History
The Parker-Gray School opened in September 1920 in its first incarnation, but its legacy dates to the 1870s. The school was named after the educators John Parker, principal of the Snowden School for Boys, and Sarah Gray, principal of the Hallowell School for Girls. The Snowden and Hallowell Schools were among the early schools established for African Americans after the Civil War.
When Parker-Gray School opened its doors on Wythe Street in 1920, it provided area children with an education from first through eighth grade. Under the direction of Henry T. White, the school operated with only the barest essentials and depended on the community for additional equipment and support.
In the 1920s the state of Virginia required eleven years of public education (seven years of elementary and four of high school). Since Alexandria did not have a high school for African Americans, most students who wished to continue their education traveled to Washington, D. C. Attending school in the District of Columbia meant riding a bus every morning past the all-white Alexandria High School to Twelfth and D Streets Northwest, walking 21 blocks to either Dunbar or Armstrong High School, and then retracing this route to get home at the end of the day.
The High School Years
Parker-Gray's first four-year high school class graduated in 1936. Over time Parker-Gray High School gained a reputation for its dedicated teaching staff, who despite the constraints of segregation were able to provide a positive learning experience.
In 1950 increased enrollment created a need for larger quarters. The relocation of Parker-Gray High School to its new building at 1207 Madison Street was made possible by the famous NAACP lawyer Charles Houston. (Houston wrote the brief that upheld the cause of integration in the Supreme Court.) The old school on Wythe Street was then re-named Charles Houston Elementary School in appreciation for his hard work and dedication.
The 1950s were the "Golden Age" for the high school. Money was available for school projects, the library was expanded, a new addition was planned, and the school was accredited by the Southern Association for Accreditation.
During these years civic groups and the NAACP continued to press for complete integration of the city's schools. Integration of Alexandria's schools was achieved in 1964. This event led to the phasing out of the Parker-Gray High School during the 1964-1965 school year.
With the integration of area high schools, Parker- Gray became a middle school, and operated as such from 1965 until 1979 when it closed.
Born out of the Alexandria Black History Resource Center's mission (now the Alexandria Black History Museum), the Parker-Gray Archives seeks to preserve documents, photographs, yearbooks and other memorabilia relating to the Parker-Gray school years.
Currently the archives contain over 300 photographs, many
documents, and assorted
memorabilia relating to Parker-Gray from 1920 to 1979.
Visitors and educators may use the archives by appointment. To schedule an appointment, please call the Alexandria Black History Museum at 703.746.4356 one week in advance.
Objects from the collection are available for loan to institutions that meet City of Alexandria and Office of Historic Alexandria requirements.
Please contact the Museum for prints or digital reproduction rights for photographs in the archives. A fee may apply in accordance with museum policies.
What You Can Do to Help
If you have photographs, scrapbooks, or yearbooks from Parker-Gray High School or Middle School, please contact the director of the Alexandria Black History Museum about donation options.
If you have stories to share, contact the director about the Office of Historic Alexandria's Oral History Initiative. Staff members conduct audio and video tape interviews for inclusion in the city's archives. This is a wonderful way to preserve your history for family members and future scholars. You may choose an open or sealed oral history.
Support the Alexandria Black History Museum's programming. Funds acquired through Museum events are used to assist in the conservation of archival materials.
Join the Parker-Gray Alumni Association. The association meets monthly. Each year the Association provides a scholarship to an eligible high school senior and sponsors social events. There is a bi-annual reunion in August. For more information about the Parker-Gray Alumni Association, call 703.746.4356.