Peabody High School

Historical Significance

Peabody Colored High School, built in 1874, was the first public school for blacks in Virginia and one of the oldest black public high schools in the South. Between 1870 and 1874, classes were taught out of a black church located on Harrison Street. The George Peabody Fund and other sources received funds from a grant of $10,000 from the city supplement. The construction of the building was completed in 1874 at a cost of $18,270 and the twelve-room brick structure was officially named Peabody School in honor of Massachusetts philanthropist George Peabody.

At first, white teachers were employed to teach in this black school. In 1882, through the efforts of Rev. Henry Williams of the Gillfield Baptist Church and Representative Peter G. Morgan, black teachers became a permanent presence in the black public schools of Petersburg. In 1948, land was purchased within the boundaries of Wesley, Jones, and Federal Streets and a new school, Peabody High School, opened in 1951 with 524 students and 29 teachers. The teachers taught grades eight through eleven. Despite the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case in 1954 that abolished the doctrine of separate but equal in public schooling, Peabody High School remained segregated until September 1970. Under the "Freedom of Choice Desegregation Plan" all eighth and ninth-grade students were to attend the all black Peabody High School, while the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students would attend the predominately white Petersburg High School. In 1974, Peabody High School became an integrated middle school. 

Physical Description

The original two buildings were named Peabody-Williams School in honor of George Peabody, a philanthropist, and Henry Williams, a minister at the Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg. The Peabody building was designated as the Senior High School and the Williams building as the Junior High School.

Geographical and Contact Information

Corner of Harrison and Fillmore Streets
Petersburg, Virginia