We write to express our steadfast support for Jimmy Hollins’ effort to designate Jackson P. Burley High School as a National Historic Landmark (“Burley graduates seek landmark status for school,” The Daily Progress, Jan. 27).
Such a tribute is not only fitting, it’s necessary for a community like ours that’s been ravaged by issues of race and white privilege, not just in 2017 but well before, going back decades and centuries.
We at the University of Virginia School of Nursing have an additional reason for wishing that a marker be placed at Burley: During the 1950s and ’60s, our school partnered with Burley’s vocational program to establish a licensed practical nursing program that graduated between 50 and 60 nurses in the 13 years of its existence. The LPN program, initiated by then-UVa Department of Nursing Director Roy Carpenter Beazley and the high school leaders, was created because of UVa Hospital’s critical shortage of nurses, and aimed to provide a pipeline. As UVa, its nursing school and hospital remained segregated into the middle 1960s and early 1970s, the LPN program was one of just a small handful of pathways for black students in Charlottesville to become nurses.
There is a lot we don’t know about these LPN graduates — whose names and stories we’re actively seeking — but we are certain, however, that they were among the first nurses who worked to desegregate UVa Hospital, our school system, and, ultimately, UVa. We seek to honor these “hidden nurses” by telling their stories, including the important roles they played in dismantling segregation. Many of these women and men are now well into their 80s.
Of course there is nothing — no historical marker, no apology written or said, no letter to the editor — that can truly atone for the sins of our city’s past. What we can do, though, is condemn racism and injustice when we see it, spread compassionate care where we might, and acknowledge past wrongs repeatedly, often, and well.
National Historic Landmarks offer us a physical reminder of places and times in our history that must not be forgotten, lest they be repeated.
Mr. Hollins, we are with you, and all those who walked the halls of Burley High School, nurses and otherwise.
Dorrie K. Fontaine
Barbra Mann Wall
Dorrie K. Fontaine is dean and professor; Barbra Mann Wall is a professor; and Susan Kools is associate dean for diversity and inclusion, all at the University of Virginia School of Nursing.