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Black women traveled far for education

Before integration, some black teenagers found welcoming schools, but they had to travel beyond the borders of their home counties to find them.

Alfretta Davis and Anne Bonner were among the many who had to leave their homes to attend schools for blacks that were many miles away.

Davis was born in Braxton County, but she started high school by boarding with a family in the small Fayette County community of Winona. From Winona, she had a long bus ride — at least an hour each way — over winding roads to Montgomery, where she was a student at Simmons High School.

“It was dark when we left for school and dark when we got back,” Davis remembers.

“It was lonesome the first year,” she said. “I got homesick.”

She was 16 and did not know the family she boarded with before she moved in.

After she braved the first year, her sister, Bonnie, attended the second year. Two more sisters followed later.

“There was no racial problem in Braxton County,” she said. “We played with white kids. I never paid attention to color. I just could not go to school in Braxton.”

Davis had to start cooking for her family when she was 9. Her mother went blind, and she had to help with family chores.

“I love to work. I have nervous energy,” she said.

She met her future husband, Alfonzo, in Winona. They eventually made a home for themselves and their family in Charleston.

Simmons High School was torn down years ago as West Virginia University Institute of Technology expanded. Davis said she has attended each reunion since she graduated. They hold reunions every other year and she hopes to attend the 2005 reunion at the Charleston Marriott.

Davis received certifications so that she could work as a nurse’s aid and also as a nutrition counselor. She is proud of the college degrees her children earned and one more grandchild is graduating from high school this year. Besides her children, she and her husband were also foster parents.

Her Charleston home is filled with pictures of her children and grandchildren, many showing them wearing their caps and gowns for graduation.

Ansted resident Anne Bonner is now 93. But when she looks back over her life, she points to her time at the West Virginia Collegiate Institute fondly.

“It was the happiest time of my life,” Bonner said. “I loved it.” The school was the forerunner of what is now West Virginia State University.

But when Bonner attended, the school was a boarding school. A school for students who could not speak or hear was nearby and she learned sign language from those students. “I can still spell my name in my hand,” she said.

She remembers studying algebra, geometry, English, and her favorite — botany.

“There was no high school for blacks here,” she said. “The county paid for our tuition.

“It [integration] should have been that way all along,” she said.

“Blacks and whites were raised up together, so they should go to school together. When I wanted to go to high school, we had no other choice.”

To contact staff writer Susan Williams, use e-mail or call 348-5112.


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