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Richmond’s Education History

Where African American Students Learned

Before the city appropriated funds for the secondary education of African American children, that instruction was given at the Colored Normal School. Historically, “normal schools” trained teachers of all races. Founded in 1865 with the help of Freedmen’s Bureau funds, the Colored Normal School educated noted Richmonders such as John Mitchell and Maggie Walker, who was a teacher before she went into finance.

At the Colored Normal School, classes were held in local churches for two years, until funds were raised for a building at Sixth and Duval Streets. Overwhelming demand caused the school to quickly outgrow its new building, so a bigger school was erected at Twelfth and Leigh Streets (pictured here, it was ultimately demolished in 1957 to make room for I-95). This version of the school, called the Colored High and Normal School, eventually became more like a high school, offering four years of secondary education and one year of additional normal (or teacher) training. In 1909, the school relocated to First and Leigh Streets, and its name was changed to honor a noted Virginia educator, United States Colored Troops commander, and the founder of Hampton Institute.

The school underwent one merger and a few more relocations, eventually moving to Church Hill in 1952. In compliance with desegregation laws, it was integrated in 1971. When that building on 31st Street in Church Hill fell short of code in 2004, the school was relocated to and consolidated with Kennedy High School. Through all these changes, however, the historic school has kept the name it assumed in 1909, Armstrong High School (minus the word “normal”), in honor of General Samuel Armstrong.

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