Shepherd University commemorated Storer College’s major contributions to African American betterment, strides toward the Civil Rights Movement and equality on Monday, Feb. 25.
The event was free and featured a showing of the documentary film, “Storer College: A Legacy of Light and Learning.” The evening also included a discussion session with two speakers, reception and book signing.
The first to speak was Dr. Dawne Burke, a Storer College Historian and associate professor at Shepherd University. Midge Flinn Yost, the producer of the film, then began a discussion of her film.
The documentary followed the history of Storer College since its beginning in 1867 through to the school’s closing in 1955. The school opened two years after the end of the Civil War. The Rev. Nathanial Brackett, a Freewill Baptist, opened the school to nineteen students in a battle-worn building, The Lockwood House, in Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Brackett went on to set up a network of mission schools throughout the region.
In the film there are a number of interviews with Storer College alumni. Kathleen Bechtold, a Shepherd University student, felt that “the comments of the alumni really added something to the presentation.”
In an interview, one alumnus states that “the great test after the war, could African Americans learn?” There was a looming question of what people were to do with all of the newly freed slaves. Storer College set out to train African American teachers.
The school began as a small teaching school. It later expanded to teaching other courses of study and industrial training. By 1921, the school had become a junior college. In 1938, the federal government granted Storer an additional two years of education, allowing it to become a degree-granting institution.
Storer College provided a number of extracurricular activities. For instance, the school was religious and students were required to attend chapel every Wednesday. As one interviewer in the film recounts, however, some students tried to skip it. Students were also involved in a number of sports. The school had teams in sports such as basketball, football, and tennis.
Storer College has a rich history and is a part of African American culture and heritage. In 1906, the Niagara Movement, a predecessor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), held its first meeting in the United States at Storer. A number of Storer’s alumni went on to receive great honors and achievements. Nnamdi Azikiwe, for example, went on to become the first president of Nigeria.
Burke concluded in her discussion that Storer is “a legacy of social responsiveness… responsiveness is action.”
Burke donated framed pages from The Morning Sun, a Freewill Baptist abolitionist newspaper, to the Storer Ballroom. The donations were made to commemorate the Freewill Baptist missionaries who sacrificed and risked their own lives.
Yost told audience members that the mystery surrounding the school sparked her interest. She was curious why Storer College, with very little known history, was still being commemorated today.
Yost said, “I would ask questions, ‘What is this place?’ So, then I started to get little pieces of information.”
Yost noticed an alumni newsletter on one of her visits to the National Park Services. She commented on how the school closed nearly fifty years ago and they still have a regular alumni newsletter when most high school reunions do not make it past their twentieth.
However, the alumni in the film show their dedication and appreciation for Storer College.
Anna Tilgman, reflecting on her return to Storer, said, “It’s like you’ve been away from home. It’s like you’ve come back home.”
Allyson Hayes, a Shepherd University student, thought that “Storer College: A Legacy of Light and Learning” was a “moving and enlightening presentation.”
Minerva Williams, an alumna who attended the event on Monday, said, “I had a good time at Storer.”
Williams went on to graduate from Storer College and has since become a nurse and a music director. She shared stories from her time at the college. In one story, she recounts that “the young men back from the war would buy us wine, and we would all go up on the mountain. We had fun.”
People can still visit the Storer College campus at the Harpers Ferry National Park. Each year, the alumni from Storer make a pilgrimage back to their campus to reminisce on the special time in their lives. If you are planning to make a visit during August, you might get the chance to talk to one of the alumni and hear about his or her first-hand experience at Storer College.