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Margaret Stephenson collection on Nansemond County Training School

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSS 16683

Content Description

This collection contains Margaret Stephenson's research materials on the Nansemond County Training School (NCTS), a historic Rosenwald School for African-American students first constructed in 1924 in Suffolk, Virginia.

The materials include historical files and pictures of the school and students, NCTS reunion day event materials and registration forms, newspaper clippings about the history and preservation of the school; and information on "Strength Through Our Roots", a documentary that presents a first-hand historical record of the life of African Americans in Nansemond County Training School from 1924 to 1970.The Alumni Association of the school created the documentary "to encourage an appreciation and knowledge of their heritage, where diverse groups, young and old, learn the culture and experiences of their ancestors, and enrich the quality of life for future generations" (From a broadside introducing the film)

The collection contains a copy of the documentary film, "Strength Through Our Roots", by Jochen Künstler and Caroline Stephenson.


  • Creation: 2000 - 2014
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 2013 - 2014


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.The collection contains 1 DVD. Original digital media, such as DVDs, cannot be handled directly by patrons. Appointments must be made in advance to request these items held by Special Collections. In most cases, materials must be reformatted before they can be accessed, sometimes at the researcher’s expense. Please use our online reference request form ( to request access to these materials or to ask for further information or to schedule access to audio-visual materials.

Conditions Governing Use

No reproductions can be made of photocopies from other institutions.

Biographical / Historical

Margaret Stephenson (1942-2014) was born in Richmond, Virginia to Lucille Long Bowles, originally of Severn, NC and later of Como, NC. After graduating from Highland Springs High School in Richmond, Virginia in 1960, she married E. Frank Stephenson, Jr. of Como, NC and attended Chowan College before earning her bachelor's degree in Mathematics from North Carolina State University. She subsequently earned a Masters degree in Architectural History from the University of Virginia. She also taught art at Chowan College and Paul D. Camp Community College and worked for the City of Raleigh's Planning Department and the Virginia Department of Transportation's Environmental Division.

As an architectural historian, Professor Stephenson collected historical information about the Nansemond County Training School, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 in (Holland) Suffolk, Virginia. Constructed in 1924, it was the first public high school for African American students in Nansemond County and was one of the schools that received start up money from the Julius Rosenwald fund ($1,500). It was also funded by African American families ($5,000), and $11,500 in public money.

Booker T. Washington encouraged Julius Rosenwald (1862-1932) an American businessman, philanthropist, and part owner of Sears and Roebuck Company to address the poor state of African American education in the Southern United States, which suffered from inadequate buildings and teaching materials. After meeting Washington in 1911, Rosenwald incorporated the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1917. By the time the program ended in 1932, it had produced nearly 5,000 schools, 217 teachers’ houses and 163 shop buildings for the education of Black students in the rural South. The documentation in the National Register of Historic Places states that the "Nansemond County Training School is an excellent example of rural southern school architecture. The combination of public and private money and monies from the Julius Rosenwald Fund show how strongly the community wanted to be able to educate its African American population in a modern school building."

The Nansemond County Training School grew out of the Little Fork School located on the estate of William Jackson Copeland who had the vision to provide a building site to meet the educational and cultural needs of African American children of the day. The original school was destroyed by fire with its replacement being built in 1924 and becoming known as the Nansemond County Training School.

The building, with seven classrooms and one auditorium, contained an elementary and secondary school, was one of ten Rosenwald schools in Suffolk, Virginia. The Rosenwald schools were known for their standardized floor plans which were designed to let sunlight into the classrooms in the afternoon to save money on electricity and heating. Hannibal E. Howell was its first principal from 1919 to 1961, serving for 42 years. In 1964, the name was changed to Southwestern High School and after the racial integration of county schools, became Southwestern Intermediate School. Today it is called Southwestern Elementary School and is located next to the Nansemond County Training School which is currently used for storage.(East Suffolk High School was also a Rosenwald school for Black students (1926-1965)

Sources Speidell, Phyllis, "Raising Funds to Restore Historic School into Heritage Center" The Virginia Pilot. January 10, 2008.

Staff reports. "School Celebrates Reunion" Suffolk-News Herald. July 27, 2015.

"Nansemond County High School". Wikipedia. Accessed 6/14/22

"Suffolk Scrapbook" Mae Burke regarding the Nansemond County Training School

Agnew, Tracy. "Four Rosenwald Schools Stand in Suffolk" Suffolk-News Herald. March 1, 2010.

(Rev. 10-90) NPS Form 10-900 OMB No. 10246018 United States Department of the Interior National Park Service NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES REGJSTRATION FORM .


.2 Cubic Feet (One half-width letter-size document box) : two letter size folders

1 items (1 DVD)

Language of Materials


Condition Description


Guide to Margaret Stephenson collection on Nansemond County Training School
Ellen Welch
2022 June 13
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library Repository

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
P.O. Box 400110
University of Virginia
Charlottesville Virginia 22904-4110 United States