In 1872, the Banister Baptist Association elected a board of eleven men including ministers, professional workers, and businessmen to build a private African-American training school in Halifax County. These men purchased land from Mayor Edmondson of South Boston, constructing a school consisting of four wooden buildings and a dormitory on the site. The school, known both as the Halifax Normal Institute and the Banister Institute, opened in 1897 with a six-month school year and students up to ninth grade. It was primarily a boarding school, due to transportation difficulties in sizeable Halifax County. Board cost $200 per year, a prohibitive sum for most African Americans at the time.
The County School Board purchased the Halifax Institute in 1920, and it became Halifax Training School, a public school that was later consolidated to house all black high school students in Halifax County. Under the influence of school consolidation efforts led by Dr. Sidney B. Baff, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Dr. Fred M. Alexander, State Supervisor of Negro Education, Booker T. Washington High School of South Boston merged into Halifax Training School in 1948. By 1950, Halifax Training School was one of the state's largest rural black high schools. Despite lack of running water in labs, a paucity of money for supplies, and lack of transportation, a national magazine reported that 27 of 64 seniors went to college (42 percent), a number well over the national average of 20 percent.
Following the consolidation with Booker T. Washington School, additions were constructed at Halifax Training School to accommodate new students. A Vocational and Agriculture Building, cafeteria, gymnasium, library, fully equipped science laboratory, and home economics space were all eventually added in order to meet "separate but equal" standards and prevent integration.
In 1956, the county renamed the school Mary M. Bethune High School in honor of a renowned black educator, civil rights leader, presidential advisor, and founder of black women's clubs. When Virginia schools finally integrated, years after the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka case, the school became Halifax County Junior High School, and the county's black and white high school students attended Halifax Senior High School. The county's middle school students continued to attend Halifax Junior High from 1969 until the 1979-80 school year.
The Mary M. Bethune High School building has been renovated and serves today as the Mary M. Bethune Complex, providing community services as a government office building and a child care and school system center.
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201 Cowford Road