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Armstrong High time capsule takes alumni, students back in history

4/6/2018, 1:45 p.m.
Armstrong High School’s storied past collided with its present last Saturday as a legion of several hundred Wildcats, mostly from ...
Former schools Superintendent Lucille M. Brown, seated center, an Armstrong High School alumna, describes for the audience the contents of the 1952 time capsule found during demolition of the former Armstrong building on 31st Street. Dr. Brown is flanked by Meg Hughes, left, of The Valentine museum and architectural historian Kimberly Chen who were handling the fragile items. Looking on are, from left, Armstrong Principal Willie Bell, School Board member Cheryl L. Burke and Dennis H. Harvey, chair of the Armstrong High School Alumni Coalition. Sandra Sellars/Richmond Free Press

By Saraya Wintersmith

Armstrong High School’s storied past collided with its present last Saturday as a legion of several hundred Wildcats, mostly from the Armstrong High School Alumni Coalition, gathered to witness the opening of a 1952 time capsule. 

The time capsule — a bread box-sized, tarnished copper container — sat inside the foundation of the former Armstrong High School building on 31st Street in the East End until it was discovered recently when the building was demolished.


Postage stamps, newspaper clippings, a yearbook and a list of the school’s principals dating back to 1876 are among the items found in the Armstrong High School time capsule.

Sandra Sellars/Richmond Free Press

Postage stamps, newspaper clippings, a yearbook and a list of the school’s principals dating back to 1876 are among the items found in the Armstrong High School time capsule.

The alumni coalition, established to preserve and promote the history and legacy of the historic school, thought the capsule had been placed in 1951, when the former building was constructed. But during a lively ceremony on Saturday at the current Armstrong building on Cool Lane, the box’s contents made it clear that the capsule had been placed in 1952.

Excitement grew as a student from the Wildcats band struck a drum roll. The crowd broke into cheers as John Dorman, a 1966 alumnus, strode down the auditorium aisle, capsule in hand, toward the stage decked out in bursts of blue and orange, the school’s colors.

On stage, 89 year-old Armstrong alumna, retired educator and former Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Lucille M. Brown joyfully reminisced about the institution’s former teachers and students. She also told the crowd she recalled a time during segregation when Armstrong graduates were denied entry into all-white state colleges because of their race, and yet they prevailed in their various fields.

“They had not heard of Armstrong High School,” she declared with pride.

After her remarks, a gloved preservationist from The Valentine museum fished objects from the time capsule as Dr. Brown reviewed each and related stories.

Inside the metal container was a three-page history of Armstrong High School detailing its connection to some of the first schools for Negro children in Richmond in 1865 that were financed, in part, by the Freedman’s Bureau and constructed by the donated labor of African-American mechanics and laborers.

“This is precious — and valuable,” Dr. Brown exclaimed while peering at the document.

In 1909, the school was moved to First and Leigh streets and named in honor of the founder of Hampton Institute, Union Gen. Samuel C. Armstrong. The school relocated again in 1923 and again in 1951 before merging with the former Kennedy High School on Cool Lane in 2004, but continuing to use the Armstrong name, mascot and colors.

For decades as Virginia maintained a system of racially segregated schools, Armstrong was one of only two high schools in Richmond dedicated to the education of African-American students. The other school, Maggie L. Walker High School, was Armstrong’s biggest rival in sports. 

Several copies of the student newspaper, “Spirit of Armstrong,” were folded in the time capsule, including a December 1947 edition detailing the Armstrong-Walker football game. “This victory meant a state football championship,” according to a Feb. 22, 1952, note penned by then-Principal George Peterson Jr.

Other items stashed in the capsule included a copy of the Book of Psalms and a book of biographies of presidents and secretaries of the National Negro Insurance Association from 1921 to 1949.