By CALVIN SNEED
GATE CITY — “It’s something to be proud of. ... Not every school gets a historical marker right by the main road for all to see.”
Barbara Jean Rogers Johnson has lived most of her 89 years in Gate City. Although she eventually graduated from Douglass High School in Kingsport, she’ll readily tell you that the best of her learning years was spent at Prospect Elemen-tary School, which has just received a new historical marker placed along one of Scott County’s main highways. The marker commemorates the former African-American school’s more than 100-year-old history.
“We had a school back in the day where you were loved by teachers just like your mama and daddy at home,” Johnson said. “Gate City was our home, and Prospect was our lives. The marker is a good reminder of that, not just for us older ones, but the younger generations, too.”
High on a hill overlooking the former African-American communities of Sticktown and Trot in the western end of Gate City stood Prospect Elementary, built in 1916 for Black children in a segregated society. Mary Wolfe Colley was its longtime principal from 1936 to 1964. Prospect teachers taught from first grade through the seventh and eighth grades; after that, a few students were bused away to high schools in Bristol and Christiansburg, Virginia, but most of them graduated from the much closer Douglass High School in Kingsport just across the state line. Prospect closed due to integration in 1964-65, its students sent to Shoemaker Elementary Junior High and Gate City High. The Prospect school building was eventually torn down. A cornerstone and historical plaque now celebrate the location, beside the current Hales Chapel United Methodist Church on Manville Road.
In the “family” of historical markers on Highway 23 North at the Gate City city limits that commemorate some of Scott County’s most memorable events and places now stands a plaque that features Prospect School. It was commissioned by the Prospect Alumni Association and placed just a few days ago, just in time for Black History Month.
“Our Prospect light is shining in the community once again,” said Penny Walker, whose many family members attended the school on the hill. “Like most Black schools long gone in the region, everybody can now know there was also a schoolhouse for Black children to go in Gate City and Scott County and get a good education.”
Prospect was one of four school buildings in the area built with money from the local Black community, the city-county school board and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which provided money to help build thousands of Black schools in the South in the early 20th century. That notation is prominent on Prospect’s marker. The other Rosenwald locally co-funded schools were the New Canton School at Church Hill, the first Douglass School building in Kingsport on what is now East Sevier Avenue, and the Langston School gymnasium in Johnson City. Of these historic buildings, only the gym in Johnson City stands today.
“Just like the other communities, we were a close-knit neighborhood in Gate City and the Prospect School was the anchor that held the neighborhood together back then,” remembered Richard Maxwell, who graduated from the school in 1946. “Among the schoolwork, our teachers taught us about life and being proud of our heritage. That new monument is a testimonial to that.”
His wife echoed that sentiment.
“My mother always said, ‘To know your history is to know where you’re going,’ “ said Rochelle Maxwell, Prospect Class of 1962. “Prospect is not just Black history. It’s everybody’s history. I hope and pray that people will see the historical marker, ask questions and learn about the little school that had so much tradition. It’s their history, too.
“As long as there was a good education to be had, graduates of the Prospect Elementary School got it,” she said. “A good education is truly a blessing, just like the school was.”
James Wood graduated from Prospect in 1954 and Douglass High School in 1958, eventually coming back to substitute teach at Prospect. He said going to Kingsport wasn’t a difficult environment because not only was Douglass practically next door, but everybody at Prospect knew everybody in Kingsport’s African-American community anyway.
“We would see folks from Riverview at church sometimes in Gate City, at family gatherings, at Douglass basketball and football games, plus we’d see each other in the Riverview neighborhood from time to time,” he says. “Prospect was the central part of a large family that also included all the churches in the region. Going to Douglass was a continuation of going to Prospect, but Prospect had its own identity, too. That’s why it’s exhilarating to see the school’s monument on one of Scott County’s busiest roads. Some diligent work by several Prospect alumni has brought the long-gone school of our birth into the 21st century.”
The family of historical monuments that Prospect is now part of on Highway 23 is piquing the interest of a lot of passing motorists. The monuments stand in a stately line so that each can grab your attention as you travel by. Visitors can park at the site while they learn about Scott County history.
“It’s interesting that some people will drive by slowly,” noted Penny Walker watching the passing cars. “They could be reading the markers to see if they recognize one of the sites, or they’re driving slowly and carefully in a solemn reverence to the historical sites mentioned. I think it’s both. I think the monuments are there in cadence with each other, and the parking area that Gate City has provided gives people pause to their history.
“There’s pride in that spot, just like there’s pride in Prospect and the other historical places mentioned on the markers.”
Prospect School alumni hope the historical marker is only the beginning for their organization. So many people, both in the alumni association and in the Gate City and Scott County civic community, contributed financially to get the monument manufactured and placed. The alumni group is planning a dedication ceremony when it warms up in the springtime to thank everybody. Another school reunion is planned for this summer. The alumni association also welcomes donations to its efforts as well. If you’d like to contribute, contact Rochelle Maxwell at (276) 386-9625.
Those donations paid off in getting the long sought-after historical marker.
“Joy. That’s the only word to describe that plaque,” said Walker. “That’s exactly what’s going through my heart every time I see it. So many people worked hard for this. It’s just the beginning of recognition for our little school. It’s just joy.”
The little school on the hill for African-American children in Gate City will never be forgotten. One of its oldest surviving students can attest to that. She says the historical marker can be a catalyst that sparks conversation.
“People can say, ‘I never went to Prospect, but I heard it was a top-notch school,’ “ said Johnson proudly. “A good education like we received is always worth sharing.”
By J.H. OSBORNE
The latest COVID-19 numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health’s daily report for Saturday, Feb. 20:
• 51 new deaths and 1,335 new cases.
• Pandemic totals are 11,115 deaths and 764,008 cases.
• 736,300 (96%) of those cases were listed as “inactive/recovered.”
• New deaths by age: 22 in the 81-plus group; 19 in the 71-80 group; six in the 61-70 group; three in the 51-60 group; and one in the 41-50 group.
• Four new deaths and 128 additional cases for the eight-county region.
• New deaths by county: three in Washington; and one in Greene.
• New cases by county: 47 in Sullivan; 23 in Hawkins; 22 in Washington; 18 in Greene; 13 in Carter; three in Unicoi; one in Hancock; and one in Johnson.
• Active cases by county: 358 in Sullivan; 228 in Washington; 181 in Hawkins; 129 in Greene; 110 in Carter; 48 in Unicoi; 13 in Johnson; and nine in Hancock.
• Statewide: 9.16% of the 10,942 new test results reported statewide Saturday by the Tennessee Department of Health.
• Ballad Health: As of Friday, 14.0% over the prior seven days, for the health system’s 21-county service area, including Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County’s new high school might have a paved access road after all.
But it would be a school-system-owned private driveway connecting to Henry Harr Road instead of a public road coming in from Jericho Drive off state Route 357.
The Board of Education has set a called meeting solely about another access road proposal for West Ridge High School for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Holston Middle School’s library.
No public comment will be allowed.
The meeting will come before a regular work session where the agenda for the BOE’s March 4 voting meeting will be reviewed.
“This one is a resolution that some of the commissioners have come to me and talked about,” BOE Chairman Randall Jones of Indian Springs said on Friday.
The resolution would cost up to $200,000 in school system money plus the unknown cost of a new road.
The idea, Jones said, is to put a paved road off Henry Harr Road that would be a school driveway, not a public road as proposed to connect the school campus to state Route 357 just after it ceases being Airport Parkway. That plan would have used Jericho Drive beside Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, passing the site of a proposed truck stop.
The original concept was a gravel driveway for additional access to the campus, as supported by County Mayor Richard Venable and Jones, but Jones said some commissioners he did not name support the private driveway idea.
That would make the school system, not Kingsport or Sullivan County, responsible for snow removal and maintenance.
The resolution the school board on Thursday is to consider, Jones said, would approve spending up to $200,000 in school system fund balance or unrestricted reserve to do a design on the access road connecting the campus to Henry Harr Road.
Accessing the campus from the direction of Indian Springs still would require driving on the winding, two-lane Lynn Road to reach Henry Harr Road.
From the south side of Interstate 81, driving in on Shipley Ferry Road still would require traversing the existing Lynn Road and Shipley Ferry Road, both of which have tight curves and abrupt elevation changes.
The county commission at its Thursday meeting approved a proposal for the highway department to acquire right of way as needed to widen Lynn Road so that two school buses could safely pass at all points along the roadway and to install speed tables and make other safety improvements.
In addition, the BOE at what Jones said was the behest of some commissioners has voted to seek eminent domain information from board attorney Pat Hull.
The school board approved by a vote of 7-0 the proposal to use Jericho Road and a route over land to be bought with a purchase option from Jericho Partners LLC, which includes former Highway Commissioner Jim Belgeri. That plan would have cost $4.8 million up front or $6 million over time using bonds.
However, the commission turned that proposal down in a vote of 2-15 with one abstaining and six absent. Only resolution sponsors Randy Morrell of Holston Valley and Sam Jones of Colonial Heights voted for the proposal.
School board member Mark Ireson of Colonial Heights, originally an opponent of the school that became West Ridge, said he voted for the Belgeri proposal because he wants good and safe access to the school.
However, Ireson said he’d really like to see a four-lane access to West Ridge, not a two-lane one.
“I would like to see us do something bigger if we do another four-lane entrance,” Ireson said.
The existing North and South high schools have direct access to a four-lane, and Central high is a few hundred feet from a four-lane road.
Those are the schools being consolidated into West Ridge.
By MIKE STILL
The LENOWISCO Health District’s number of new COVID-19 infections remained below 15, according to Saturday’s state data report, while the region’s daily vaccinations exceeded 600.
The Virginia Department of Health (www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus) said the LENOWISCO district reported 14 COVID-19-related cases and one new death for totals of 6,863 and 175 deaths during the pandemic.
Wise County saw 10 cases for 2,807 and 85 deaths. Scott County had three cases for 1,566 and 47 deaths.
Lee County saw one case for 2,255 and 38 deaths. Norton remained at 235 cases and added a death for five deaths.
In the LENOWISCO district, 17,266 doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given since they became available in Virginia — 614 additional doses since Friday’s report and 19.97% of the district population.
The number of people in the district receiving the recommended two doses is 5,293 — 6.12% of the district’s 86,471 population.
Statewide, 1,541,772 doses have been given and 440,339 people have received two doses — 5.1% of the 8.63 million state population fully vaccinated.
The VDH reported 1,882 new cases and 99 new deaths statewide in the prior 24 hours, for pandemic totals of 561,812 and 7,197 deaths.
The statewide testing rate for people with nasal swab and antigen tests in Saturday’s VDH report was 7,242,800 of 8.63 million residents, or 83.93%. For nasal swab testing only, 5,728,208 people have been tested to date, or 66.38%. In the LENOWISCO district, 40,122 of the region’s 86,471 residents have been tested via nasal swab sample for COVID-19, or 46.4%.
The seven-day average rate of positive PCR test results in the LENOWISCO district in Saturday’s report rose from 8% to 10%. The statewide seven-day positivity rate remained at 8.2%.
Red Onion State Prison remained at 61 inmate cases and one staff/contractor case Saturday, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.
Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap remained at 20 inmate cases and one active staff/contractor case. Wise Correctional Center near Coeburn remained at 24 inmate cases and no active staff/contractor cases.
According to Saturday’s VDH pandemic measures dashboard, daily case incidence in the far southwest region of Virginia — including the LENOWISCO Health District — was ranked as decreasing after an overall 47-day drop in daily case rates. The far southwest region ranking for percent positivity of COVID-19 testing results was classed as declining based on an overall 50-day decrease in that measure.
In the LENOWISCO district, Lee and Wise counties’ school systems were ranked as highest-risk based on the 14-day case incidence rate in the district, while Scott County Schools were ranked higher-risk and Norton City Schools lowest-risk.
For seven-day case incidence, Scott County Schools were ranked highest-risk. Lee and Wise counties and Norton’s schools were ranked lowest-risk.
To pre-register for COVID-19 vaccinations, go online to the VDH site vaccinate.virginia.gov or call the VDH pre-registration call center at (877) VAX-IN-VA (829-4682)
Contact numbers for local health districts are:
• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011
• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312
• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000
Where to be tested
Do you think you might have COVID-19? Local health departments provide free testing.
The LENOWISCO Health Department, which covers Norton and Lee, Wise and Scott counties, posts regular updates on testing sites across the district and offers free COVID-19 tests at its county offices. Those seeking a test must call in advance for an appointment. Contact numbers for the county offices are:
• Lee County (Jonesville) — (276) 346-2011
• Scott County (Gate City) — (276) 386-1312
• Wise County and Norton (Wise) — (276) 328-8000
Additional testing and COVID-19 precaution information can be found at the LENOWISCO Health District’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Lenowisco.
In Southwest Virginia, online resources are available to help evaluate whether residents might be infected and where to get a COVID-19 test. The Virginia Department of Health’s COVIDCHECK (https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus/covidcheck/) can walk a user through symptoms they may be experiencing and help direct them to their local health department office or other available testing sites.