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Mary Awkard Fairfax Exhibit

In 2022, the Celebrating Simms team opened the first extension to the original exhibit in the Simms boardroom, which provides an account of the life and career of storied Simms teacher Mary Awkard Fairfax. Mrs. Fairfax taught in that room for twenty-four years before the school closed in 1966. A former student of Miss Lucy Simms, Mrs. Fairfax was an expert teacher, gifted musician, and community leader. She was one of very few Black teachers to be hired into the integrated school system, and she taught at Waterman Elementary until she retired. You can view the exhibit in full below. You can also watch the virtual launch of the Fairfax exhibit on our reactions and press page or listen to a fully transcribed original interview with Mary Awkard Fairfax from 2005.

Expand the slideshow above to view the Mary Awkard Fairfax exhibit as it appears at the Simms Continuing Education Center. An interactive version of the exhibit, with links to further information about the provenance of each image, is coming soon!

Like the main Simms exhibit, the Fairfax panels were written collaboratively by faculty, students, and members of the community. Mrs. Fairfax’s family also kindly donated hundreds of documents, photographs, and other items belonging to Mrs. Fairfax to be scanned and published to the Celebrating Simms website. Those artifacts have now been digitized and tagged with metadata and are available on this website for teachers, students, scholars, and community members to browse

East Rockingham Students at at the Mary Awkard Fairfax exhibit in the Simms CenterStudents from East Rockingham High School visiting the Mary Awkard Fairfax exhibit in the Simms Continuing Education Center during the Spring 2022 semester. Photo courtesy of Beau Dickenson.

In the below photo, you can see what the conference room looked like before the Fairfax exhibit was installed. Here the original class of James Madison University students sit with members of the Simms Advisory Board in the boardroom of the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center. They are working on edits of the panels that would become the Celebrating Simms exhibit that flanks the walls of the hallway just outside the door of this room.

Simms advisory board and students editing panels
The Celebrating Simms instructors, students, and community advisory board working on panel drafts, March 2016. Photo courtesy of Seán McCarthy.