The legacy of Vacation Bible School

Published 5:09 pm Monday, May 13, 2024

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In my column last week, in a tribute to the ‘church mothers’ who had an instrumental influence on my young years, I mentioned how they had dedicated themselves to teaching Vacation Bible School, also called V.B.S.

Vacation Bible School was held during the summer, and it gave children a place to not only learn about God, the Lord Jesus and the Bible, it gave us a safe, nurturing place to go and be with our friends.
We also played games, did arts and crafts, and some children received tutoring for classes they had struggled with during the school year.

Vacation Bible School was a staple in the community I grew up in. Many churches offered it, and it wasn’t something new to my generation. Some of the oldest recorded VBS in my community were the ones Spring Garden Baptist Church and Beebe Memorial C. M. E. Church hosted in the early 1930’s.

One of the biggest VBS for the African American community was the one my mom and her younger siblings attended. It was held at what was then known as the Washington Colored School or as it was called when it was first built, Colored School #1. The school was located at the corners of Bridge and Seventh Streets. The grades went from elementary to the 11th grade. My mother graduated from here in1939.

While many local churches hosted VBS, sometimes churches became territorial about where the children of their congregants went for VBS.

Washington’s former mayor, John H. Small, who served in that position 1889-1890, and later as a congressman, was instrumental in improving public education in Washington. It is said he saw a need to bring the city’s children under one roof for Christian education, and four years after the John Small school was built, a VBS was hosted there in 1927. Since African American children could not attend VBS at the John Small school, they continued to go to their local church’s VBS.

In 1937, Mrs. Pattie Jones, the wife of Professor Peter Simon Jones (who P. S. Jones High School was named for, (now known as P. S. Jones Middle School) began a VBS at the Washington Colored School. It was here that children from all the community churches could come. It was held here in this building that my mom attended VBS as a 14-year-old. For two weeks, from 5:00 to 7:30 in the evening, mom and all the children attending learned Bible stories, learned to memorize Scripture, learned songs that conveyed the Word of God, did arts and crafts and played games. Mrs. Jones and her dedicated staff of Christian workers and volunteers offered everything a Bible School could give its attendees.

To learn more about how the Washington Colored School impacted the greater Washington community, join one of my historical walking tours, or check out my history page, ‘I’m from Washington NC and nobody told me this’ on Facebook which features 300 years of African American history in Washington NC.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-curator of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.