History of the Parker-Gray School

The Parker-Gray School provided African American children with comprehensive education at a time when segregation and lack of resources, teachers, and facilities threatened what is now understood as a fundamental right of every child.

Page updated on Mar 23, 2021 at 9:42 AM

History of the Parker-Gray Schools

Parker-Gray Graduating Class, 1965

Parker-Gray School opened in 1920 teaching grades 1 thru 8. In 1936 it graduated its first high school class. In 1965 the last class of Parker-Gray High School graduated. During the desegregation of the City of Alexandria’s public schools, Parker-Gray was reassigned as a middle school. Parker-Gray School finally closed its doors in 1979.

The Parker-Gray Schools: Elementary - High - Middle. 100th Anniversary 1920-2020 is an illustrated brochure produced by the staff of the Alexandria Black History Museum in honor of the Parker-Gray School 100th Anniversary. Can you help us identify more people in the photographs? If you can identify individuals in the photographs, use this form to share this information with the Museum, giving the page number and if necessary which person you are identifying in the photo.

Image: The last Parker-Gray High School Graduating Class in 1965.

A Brief Timeline
1920 – Parker-Gray School opens teaching grades 1-8
1932 – Parker-Gray adds high school classes grades 9-11
1936 – 1st high school 11th-grade graduating class
1950 – New high school building dedicated and original school building renamed as Charles Houston Elementary School
1953 – Parker-Gray High School adds 12th grade
1963 – Dedication of new addition to the High School building
1965 – Parker-Gray High School closes
1965 – Parker-Gray transfers to a middle school during desegregation
1976 – Charles Houston Recreation Center opens on site of original Parker-Gray School
1979 – Parker-Gray Middle School closes
1983 – Stadium at T. C. Williams High School dedicated as Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium
2013 – Alexandria African American Hall of Fame opens at the Charles Houston Recreation Center

Mr. Parker and Miss Gray

Principal John F. ParkerThe school’s name, Parker-Gray, is an important link to the history of African American education in Alexandria. After the Civil War, and under the auspices of the Freedman’s Bureau, two new schools were opened in Alexandria to serve the city’s elementary-aged African American children.

Snowden School for Boys was in the 600 block of South Pitt Street and Hallowell School for Girls was in the 400 block of North Alfred Street.

The Snowden and Hallowell schools became overcrowded and the buildings became dilapidated. Community demands for better facilities were led by Rev. S. B. Ross, pastor of Third Baptist Church, Samuel Tucker, Samuel Madden, Mrs. Blanche Taylor, Henry T. Taylor, the Teachers’ Association, and the alumni of the Hallowell and Snowden Schools.

In 1920 a new school opened named Parker-Gray for Snowden’s principal John F. Parker and Hallowell’s Sarah A. Gray.

A New School

September 1920, 901 Wythe Street
Grades 1-8, 1920-1932, High school added in 1932

The old Parker-Gray School In September 1920, Parker-Gray School opened at 901 Wythe Street, teaching grades 1 to 8. The faculty was comprised of Henry T. White as teacher-principal and nine other teachers: Miss Laura M. Dorsey; Mrs. Susie P. Madden; Mrs. Margaret T. Young; Mrs. Sarah D. Gray; Mrs. Harriet Thornton; Miss Florence Murray; Mr. James E. Howard; Mr. Rozier D. Lyles; and Mrs. Mamie E. Anderson.

The school amenities provided by the City of Alexandria were separate and most definitely unequal. Only the barest necessities were provided but the community and alumni raised approximately $4,000. With this, they purchased chairs for the auditorium, a stage curtain, waste baskets, desk clocks, coat racks for teachers, $1,000 worth of equipment for the home economics room, reference books, roller maps and globes, a typewriter, a Victrola and records, a lantern slide with 600 slides and paid half of the cost of window shades for the building.

Under the administration of Principal Wesley Elam, in 1932, another education fight was won, and Parker-Gray expanded to include a three-year high school. It was the first high school for African Americans in Alexandria, who previously had to travel to Washington, D.C. if they wished to continue their education beyond 8th grade.

A New Parker-Gray

1950-1965, Parker-Gray High School, 1207 Madison Street
Charles Houston Elementary School, 901 Wythe Street (the original Parker-Gray school)

The new Parker-Gray School

Once again following demands from the local African American community, in 1950 a new high school was built to accommodate the growing student body. This high school, built at 1207 Madison Street, took with it the name Parker-Gray. The previous building on Wythe Street was renamed Charles Houston Elementary School.

The next fifteen years are often referred to as the “Golden Age” of Parker-Gray. In 1965, Parker-Gray High School transitioned into Parker-Gray Middle School.

A Desegregated Parker-Gray 

Parker-Gray Middle SchoolIn the fall of 1964, desegregation finally came to the City of Alexandria’s public schools. In 1965, Parker-Gray High School closed and the students were transferred to other schools in Alexandria. The school was designated a middle school and new school principal, E. L. Patterson, shepherded in this new era in Parker-Gray’s history.

This would be the last iteration of a “Parker-Gray School” in Alexandria. In 1979, Parker-Gray Middle School closed its doors.

Parker-Gray: A Legacy

Parker-Gray Graduating Class, 1936Although there is no longer a Parker-Gray School in Alexandria, an alumni association for Parker-Gray High School formed in 1975, ensuring that the legacy of “Parker-Gray” would continue to be remembered.

In 1976, a new recreation center opened on the site of the original Parker-Gray School on Wythe Street. The original Parker-Gray/Charles Houston building had burned down in the 1970s.

The Charles Houston Recreation Center now houses the  Alexandria African American Hall of Fame. Among the names honored in the Hall of Fame are many Parker-Gray Alumni. The school produced doctors, lawyers, judges, a brigadier general, the first African American NBA player, college and high school coaches, Federal and State government workers, the first African American chairperson of the Alexandria School Board, teachers, scientists, musicians, career military and businessmen and businesswomen. Soon a statue to class of 1947 graduate and the first African American in the NBA, Earl Lloyd, will be erected in the center.

Image: Parker-Gray High School's first graduating class in 1936

100th Anniversary


100th Anniversary logoOn the 100th anniversary of Alexandria’s Parker-Gray School, the City of Alexandria joined the Alexandria African-American Hall of Fame and Parker-Gray Alumni in commemorating this historical legacy. View the souvenir program and a video of the Unveiling of the Parker-Gray School Memorial Walkway.

The Parker-Gray Schools: Elementary - High - Middle. 100th Anniversary 1920-2020 is an illustrated brochure produced by the staff of the Alexandria Black History Museum in honor of the Parker-Gray School 100th Anniversary

The Parker-Gray Archives

The Parker-Gray Archives includes 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.

Photographs from the  Parker-Gray School Collection can now be viewed at Historic Alexandria Collections Online. If you can identify individuals in the photographs, use this form to share this information with the Museum.