By Serena Ajbani
Ruth Owens Dillard sits in her armchair. Here, she works on her crosswords and carefully arranges puzzle pieces into full pictures. She records her family history for future generations, starting with her first known ancestor born into slavery. Ruth sits for hours on end looking out her front door, weaving together the moments that make up her life. In this armchair, Ruth remembers the pain and beauty of her time as a student at the Jarvisburg Colored School.
Ruth started high school in 1944, a time when many Southern towns refused to enforce federal education laws. The Jarvisburg Colored School was one of five segregated schools in Currituck County, North Carolina. Ruth is one of the only people still alive to remember attending the school. She remembers walking three miles each morning, trekking through the woods and over a bridge. The schoolhouse would be so cold that students would have to huddle around the old stove before beginning classes. Their textbooks were all used, unlike the new books given to students at the white schools. Despite all of this, Ruth remembers her time at the Jarvisburg Colored School fondly. “We had to get an education, and everybody wanted that,” she said. “It was so much fun, and children nowadays, they don’t have fun like that.” The community that the school fostered has lasted for decades.
In 2003, the Historic Jarvisburg Colored School Association was formed in order to preserve this Southern relic. Ruth, along with other alumni of the Currituck County schools, began fundraising and lobbying for the school to be listed on the National Register for Historic Places. “We used to go up and down the beach getting memberships and all that. We would work real hard to get it going.” Due to the support of the county and the efforts of community members, the Jarvisburg Colored School has been restored and turned into a museum.
As Ruth sits in her armchair, she thinks about her classmates, many of whom are buried in the graveyard behind the school, and how much they would have loved to see it restored. She keeps her memories with her always, replaying them in her mind, hoping to share them with future generations. “Sometimes I get lonesome now, but I enjoy just sitting here looking around. And I wish I could do the things I used to do, and then I say that I shouldn’t wish that because I had my day. And it was a good day.”