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Hampton Roads Community News

Haunting Silence And Legacy of Saint Paul’s College

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

For 125 years, Saint Paul’s College was the destination for several generations of African Americans seeking a college education and a means to empower themselves.

Saint Paul’s College, a private Historically Black College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, opened its doors on September 24, 1888, originally training students as teachers and for agricultural and industrial jobs.

But today, the school and its legacy are in haunting silence, broken only by cars passing along the stretch of road it faces.

There are no activities in the 11 red-bricked buildings, some of them a century old, which provided a space for housing, classes, or administrators.

Many of the structures still have furniture and equipment in them, unused, frozen in time.

The school closed after alumni, administrators and the Episcopal Church failed to attract enough students or private and public funding to keep it open.

In June 2012, the college’s regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, stripped the college of its accreditation. Although the college had been on probation, it lost its accreditation for “violations concerning financial resources, institutional effectiveness in support services, institutional effectiveness in academics and student services, lack of terminal degrees for too many faculty members, and a lack of financial stability.

The college sued the accreditor, and two months later a court issued a preliminary injunction reinstating the college’s probationary accreditation to protect it during further legal proceedings.

Although supporters worked on plans to have St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, another Historically Black University of Episcopal heritage, acquire Saint Paul’s, the deal was abandoned in May 2013. Shortly thereafter, Saint Paul’s College reported to SACS that it would close on June 30, 2013.

Saint Paul’s eleven-building campus was situated on 185 acres of green hills. Older buildings were constructed by students and donated by friends of the College.

The college has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The chapel at the school was built by students, (circa) 1910.

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That was Mrs. Linda McCollough’s favorite building. She graduated in 1970 with a degree in Elementary Education. She is 75, retired now and living in Henrico County after three decades of service in the classroom.

“Sadly, our school is now closed,” she said. “The alumni did not support it enough. There was an effort to get the city (of Lawrenceville) to keep it open in some form. Now it is also dying. There was no realization of how important it was to the Black community or that city.”

McCollough recalls that when she attended Saint Paul’s, over 500 students were attending. People were clamoring to get admitted.

“I met a lot of good people most of whom went on to various professions,” she said. “I loved the Chapel on Sunday and three days a week. You were taught Christianity and you were given the choice of the Old or New Testament. It was the most memorable time of my life.”

There were two dorms: Emery Hall for the young “Ladies” and “Long Island Building for the Men.

They are no kin, but Norfolk’s Julius McCullough, a noted musician and director in the field, was a faculty member at the school from 1996-1999.

McCullough had been working for a while in Philadelphia and other locales before he landed the job at Saint Paul’s.

He also taught music class and worked alongside St. Paul’s icon, John Vann, who was the school’s Choral Director and Chief Organist.

McCullough, who had led a number of units before, applied his skills and resurrected the school’s band.

McCullough is now the Director of the Boys Choir of Hampton Roads (formerly Park Place Boys Choir).

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He is a graduate of Norfolk State University with a B.S. in Instrumental Music Education.

“When I arrived, I had two band members,” he recalled. “But I worked hard with the school to get more students involved. By the end of that first season, we had 19, and that pep band was jumping!!

“I recall the Tigers (Saint Paul’s Mascot) played in the CIAA tournament my first year,” said McCullough. “We were a much smaller pep band. I recall our basketball team playing against Fayetteville State and losing. But that pep band was up to par. We matched them song for song. And we got the crowd jumping.”

“It is so disheartening to hear that the school has closed and is a ghost town,” he said. “Generations of Black people who could not go to the UVAs or Harvards were prepared at that tiny place that had…still has such a great legacy of not only educating our children to

become professionals but providing an opportunity and outlet for educators like me.”

On September 24, 1888, James Solomon Russell of the Protestant Episcopal Church founded the Saint Paul’s Normal and Industrial School, with fewer than a dozen students.

The school was intended chiefly to develop African American teachers, a critical and prestigious job in the late 19th and early 20th-century South.

In 1914 the school boasted that “The location of the school in the heart of the Black Belt of Virginia, with a Negro population of 100,000 almost at its very doors, is most favorable for the prosecution of uplift work.”

In 1941 the name of the institution was changed to Saint Paul’s Polytechnic Institute when the state granted the school authority to offer a four-year program. The first bachelor’s degree was awarded in 1944. In 1957 the college adopted its present name to reflect its liberal arts and teacher education curricula.

By the late 20th century, Saint Paul’s College offered undergraduate degrees for traditional college students and distance learning students in the Continuing Studies Program. The college also offered adult education to help assist working adults to gain undergraduate degrees. Saint Paul’s College had a Single Parent Support System

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Program that assisted single teen parents pursuing a college education.

In 2017 the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which had assumed ownership of most of the former campus, sold the property to a Chinese-related firm.

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