(The Picket)- The rich history of the Eastern Panhandle can leave some landmark gems falling off the radar. One of those is Storer College, but Guinevere Roper and some College alumni are about to change that.
Roper, a park ranger at Harpers Ferry National Park, is preparing for the 150th commemoration of Storer College. Roper has a special attachment to Storer as her father, Jesse Bradford, and her aunt Genevieve Bradford, attended the school.
The Storer College commemoration will be held at the former campus on the weekend of Oct. 6-8 and will feature food, performances, and readings from Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. David Levering Lewis. A ceremonial ribbon cutting will be held on the College Steps at 6:30 p.m. A panel on Oct 7 at 11 a.m. will discuss Recollections on Storer: Alumni Panel. The panel will be moderated by Roper.
“I want to see its story be remembered,” Roper said. “It’s been forgotten over the years, but hopefully with the commemoration, we can get the word out.”
Storer College began its life as a primary school established by the Rev. Nathan Brackett. After passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, freed slaves in West Virginia could attend Storer College. Some 2,500 students attended in 1867 with 16 teachers. Nearly half of those students were freed slaves.
Desperate for funding, Bracket went to philanthropist John Storer who agreed to pay Brackett $10,000 with a few conditions. First, Storer had to become an all-inclusive school accepting anyone no matter their race or gender. Also, Brackett’s Church, The Freewill Baptist Church, had to repay the funds. After a year-long effort of repaying Storer, Storer College opened its doors.
Storer continued as a college for 90 years, slowly going deeper into debt. In 1955 when the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs. The Board of Education case, schools opened their doors to minorities. African American students suddenly had more to choose from. Storer closed its doors for good in 1955.
Distinguished alumni of Storer include Benjamin Nnamdi Azikiwe, who went on to become a Nigerian president and Don Redman, a jazz musician who appeared in a Betty Boop cartoon.