The Simms Legacy
Lucy F. Simms School closed as a part of national school integration, with the class of 1965 being the last to graduate. Many teachers at Simms lost their jobs during the transition, although educators like Mary Awkard Fairfax and Barbara Blakey went on to teach in integrated schools, such as Waterman Elementary School. While African Americans in Harrisonburg and across the country were granted greater educational opportunities, many of them felt they lost a sense of community as a result of integration.
"They lost the school. And it has never been the same." —Mary Awkard Fairfax
Reconnecting with the Past
The Lucy F. Simms School was left officially vacant for many years after its closing, although certain groups used the building, such as The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham. Several members of the Northeast neighborhood would later establish a reunion committee to bring former classmates back together. Their first reunion was held in 1982, and many others came later. These efforts began the process of reuniting past friends and neighbors.
“We feel that we must continue to pass on the heritage we received from the instructors of Effinger Street and Lucy F. Simms schools who did not have the word can’t in their vocabulary.” —The Simms Reunion Committee, 1982
Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center
After extensive renovations, the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center was founded in 2005. It now supports after-school and community organizations that use its gymnasium, computer lab, and basement. As the home for many community events such as the Gospel Extravaganza and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast, the center continues to be a vital part of the community.
In 2013, organizers successfully lobbied officials to rename Cantrell Avenue after Martin Luther King, Jr.—a major milestone for Harrisonburg’s African American community. The Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center was used as a base for these efforts.
Former Simms Students Celebrate the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center
“The Lucy F. Simms Center means a lot to the community. I hope that everyone will support the wonderful work that has been done in remembrance of the school.”
The Lucy F. Simms Center is where we started from. We used to have to rent out other buildings for our class reunions, but we’re fortunate to have use of the center now.” –Betty Lou Winkey
“Having lived beside it for many years, it’s nice to see the old school being put to good use. The center has helped bring back some memories from childhood.” –William Martin
“Lucy F. Simms School is more than a building; it is the foundation of who we are as African Americans in the Northeast Community. The legacy of this building ties generations of African Americans together.” –Deanna Reed
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