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The Celebrating Simms project represents an ongoing collaboration between former Simms students and Northeast Neighborhood community members, the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County school systems, and James Madison University faculty and students to tell the story of African American education in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Explore the exhibits associated with this project here:

Celebrating Simms: The Story of the Lucy F. Simms School

Born enslaved in 1856, Lucy F. Simms received her degree from Virginia’s Hampton Institute, and eventually settled in Harrisonburg to teach over 1,800 students from three generations of families. The Lucy F. Simms School was built soon after her death and served African-American students from all over Rockingham County and beyond between 1938 and 1965. The original 2016 exhibit, which spans 150 years of history, tells the story of the school in terms of its place at the heart of local community life. 

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Mary Awkard Fairfax

In February 2022, an extension to the main exhibit opened to celebrate the life of educator and community leader Mary Awkard Fairfax. Taught by Miss Simms, Mrs. Fairfax went on to teach at the Lucy F. Simms School for twenty-five years and later at Waterman Elementary School after integration in 1966. The exhibit is available to view in Mrs. Fairfax’s original classroom, which is now the conference room of the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center in Harrisonburg. 

Celebrating Simms: Branch Exhibits

Bringing the history of Simms to other spaces in Harrisonburg and the region has been an important goal of the Celebrating Simms project since its opening in 2016. There are now seven “branch” exhibits in schools around the region as well as a mobile exhibit that can be adapted to various public spaces. These branch exhibits extend access to the main exhibit housed in the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center.

Celebrating Simms: Accessible Audiovisual Versions & Translations

The original Celebrating Simms exhibit has been translated into Spanish, and audiovisual recordings of the exhibit in both Spanish and English are now available to make the exhibit more accessible to Harrisonburg’s diverse community. Using QR codes, visitors can stream these recordings via their mobile devices as they peruse the physical exhibits.