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Criser High School

Coordinates: 38°54′27.5″N 78°11′27.1″W / 38.907639°N 78.190861°W / 38.907639; -78.190861{{#coordinates:38|54|27.5|N|78|11|27.1|W| |primary |name= }}

Criser High School was an all-black school accommodating grades 1-12 constructed in 1959 in the Northern Virginia town of Front Royal, Virginia. Its opening occurred the same year 22 black students integrated the all-white Warren County High School which drew national media attention.

After the Stanley plan, the legislative package implementing the massive resistance policies of Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., was found to be unconstitutional by federal courts, Criser High School was built to prevent total integration of Warren County High School. James W. McClendon came to Front Royal from Farmville, Va. McClendon was previously a teacher of agriculture at the R.R. Moton School in Prince Edward County, Va. The Prince Edward County,Board of Supervisors,refused to integrate their school system voted not to appropriate any funds for the operation of all their schools. McClendon sought employment elsewhere as news circulated throughout the state of a new all-black High School being built in Warren County Virginia. He applied and was hired as its first and only principal.

Prior to its construction only grades 1 thru 7 were available to black students of Warren County. Students that aspired to receive a high education had two choices. They could attend Manassas Regional High School(Jennie Dean), a location 40 miles away from Front Royal. This entailed leaving Sunday and returning Friday on transportation provided by the County. A second option later became available after repeated requests from concerned parents regarding the distance and time spent from home by these young black students now attending Manassas Regional. A few years prior to the construction of Criser High School the second option became available which transported Front Royals black High School students to neighboring Berryville, Va to attend Johnson-Williams High School 28 miles away which allowed these students to return home the same day but much later than their white county counterparts.

Once the construction of Criser High School was completed, the school became the educational darling of the African American community. With a 13 acre campus overlooking Southtown, Criser High School provided education for African American students from the surrounding communities of Bentonville, Limeton, Guard Hill, Milldale, Bayard, Reliance, Riverton, Rockland and Happy Creek. With an initial student population of 300 plus, African American instructors from various historically black colleges were recruited to make up its corps of teachers. Some of the initial high school instructors came from the Prince Edward County School system.

Criser reached its zenith in the early sixties and it was these formative years of the band that music instructor Geraldine Jackson established the foundation of its music legacy. Appearing on Ted Mack's nationally known The Original Amateur Hour, she showed her proficiency playing the baritone horn. Later, it was under the direction of music instructor John Easley, from Langston University, that the Black and Gold Lancers became marching band favorites of the Annual Apple Blossom Festival, Front Royal Christmas Parade, and the Hagerstown Halloween Parade. Frank Threatts of Richmond inaugurated and coached the school's sports program. In 1962, McKinley Armstrong significantly expanded the program to include baseball along with track and field competition. Criser competed with other historically black Virginia high schools in a local district that included Frederick Douglas of Winchester, Johnson-Williams of Berryville, West Luray of Luray, and Lucy Simms of Harrisonburg. Beyond their district, their competition included Douglass of Leesburg, W.C. Taylor of Warrenton, George Washington Carver of Culpeper, Luther P. Jackson of Merrifield, Hoffman-Boston of Arlington, Booker T. Washington of Staunton, Central Augusta of Staunton, and Jennie Dean of Manassas.

The consolidation of both Warren and Rappahannock school systems introduced black students from Huntly, Flint Hill, Little Washington, and Sperryville to its school population but still the overall student enrollment continued to decline. The school closed its doors in 1966 due to further declining enrollment as a major exodus of students opted to attend Warren County High School in search of a purported better education and to fulfill a driving need to satisfy the wishes of Front Royal's integrationist constituency.

Today the school still stands and has since been renamed Ressie Jeffries Elementary School by the Warren County School Board. Ressie Jeffries, Front Royal's educational black matriarch, was the town's most notable educator. Prior to the construction of Criser High School she was principal at the only elementary school for blacks. This elementary school, located on Criser Road as well, presently serves as one of the administrative offices for the school board. For those African Americans that attended this school and lived during its operation, it is the original Ressie Jeffries Elementary School.

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