Upcoming public meeting will tackle the future of historic Sumner School

A public meeting will be held over the future of Sumner School, a local historical building.
Published: Aug. 18, 2022 at 10:30 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Sumner School was the first free school for black people south of the Mason Dixon line.

It’s a part of Parkersburg’s history. Its future, however, is uncertain. That’s why the public is being invited to a meeting this weekend concerning what should be done with the building.

To understand Sumner School’s future, you must first understand its past...and who better to ask than someone who was there?

Toni Oliver is the president of the Sumnerite Association.

“I am old enough that I attended Sumner for a couple of years and integrated into the white schools after Brown versus the Board of Education in 1955,” she said.

The school was more than an institution of education. It was the heart of the local black community.

“At the time, there were four black churches and Sumner School and everything revolved around Sumner School,” Oliver said.

It was the site of Christmas plays, haunted houses, and more.

Oliver remembered, “It was a community unto itself and basically when Sumner closed we kind of lost our identity - the black community. Everybody kind of went their separate ways.”

Thanks to the efforts of Oliver’s mother, Rae Amiss Browne, the school was turned into a museum.

However, thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of pipes and fittings, forcing the building to close in 2012.

For the most part at least. Community services Browne started continued. This included tutoring.

“Her dream was to be able to set up Sumner as a service to the community,” Oliver said.

But eventually even those services came to an end.

Now Oliver is a leader in the efforts pushing to preserve the building’s legacy.

“It’s basically what the meeting is on Saturday is for the people to give their ideas as to how they would like to see the building used,” she said.

Saturday’s meeting will go over the results of a feasibility study which determined what can be done with the building.

Leaders will give a run-down of proposed ideas and the floor is open to anyone’s input.

The meeting will be held in the Trinity Episcopal Church this Saturday at 3 PM.