Know Before You Go: John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center Museum
Have you visited the John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center Museum? If not, it needs to make it to the top of your list.
Located in Spotsylvania county, the museum is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the African American History of the county. “The John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center Museum exists to preserve the history of our African American community and their devotion to education. It’s not just about preserving the past. We want the museum to serve as a catalyst to inspire people to keep moving toward their goals. We are a continuation of our community’s rich history.” says Museum Administrator Marianne Brokaw.
The museum’s own history is woven deeply within Spotsylvania County.
In 1905, a prominent county educator and community leader named John J. Wright inspired African American churches throughout Spotsylvania to collect money to start the county’s first African American secondary school.They started with just $1.25 and persevered to eventually buy land, building materials, and help with teacher salaries. The first building, Snell Training School, was two stories and finished construction in 1920. Unfortunately, it burned down in 1941.
Following this tragedy, the Spotsylvania County School Board agreed to build a new school and pay teachers’ salaries. The Sunday School Union donated 20 acres of the original 158 acre tract, as well as the fire insurance money for construction. Snell Training School’s rebuild was named the John J. Wright Consolidated School.
Spotsylvania County Schools integrated in 1968, and the school became John J. Wright School, housing the county’s entire sixth-grade and seventh-grade enrollment. The school has have several renovations over the years. Today, John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center offers alternative educational services to Spotsylvania County students from Pre-K thru 12th Grade. It is the only school of its kind in the county.
The museum is located within the John J. Wright Educational & Cultural Center, an operating Spotsylvania County school. It is open to the public Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10:00 am – 3:00 pm. If the school is in session, adults must register and get a pass from the front office.
Today, you can tour the museum’s permanent exhibition and enjoy events throughout the year. The permanent exhibit is built into vintage bookshelves! It was developed by students at University of Mary Washington, in 2019, with the generous support of Virginia Humanities.
Another unique exhibit is a chalkboard timeline created by a local artist that shows the story of Spotsylvania’s African American education from 1873 until 2010. Museum goers can also view various photographs and documents that help tell the story of Spotsylvania’s African American heritage – particularly its passion for education.
Who was John J Wright?
John J Wright was born in 1863, in Spotsylvania County, a child of former slaves. “John J Wright was very well loved in the community.” says Marianne Brokaw. “That is the overarching fact that shines through wherever he is mentioned. He is described as honest, genuine, and brilliant.” John J. Wright graduated from Virginia State College, then known as Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, in 1894. Upon graduation, he went back to teach at the school he once attended and taught there for 21 years. He was the first teacher of color to teach at the school.