“Dry Bridge School” State Historical Marker unveiled in Martinsville

Descendants of Rev. William F. Geter, former students of East Martinsville School, City Leaders...
Descendants of Rev. William F. Geter, former students of East Martinsville School, City Leaders and others take a picture of the new historical marker in Martinsville.(Will Thomas)
Published: Oct. 2, 2021 at 6:20 PM EDT
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MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - The Dry Bridge School opened in 1928 to provide education to African Americans in Henry County. One of the main figures who helped make it all possible was Reverend William F. Geter.

“He was a pivotal part of this community and the upbringing of some of us, his descendants, for generations to come. Reverend Geter, he was an educational fanatic, and really taught that education would be the game changer,” said his great-granddaughter, Renee Brown.

Martinsville was desegregated in 1968, which is also when the school was closed. Saturday, many of Geter’s descendants, former students, city leaders, and the community joined the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR) to dedicate a historical mark near where the school used to be.

“We were all just taught to be one big family of children here at East Martinsville Elementary School,” said former student at East Martinsville School, Bishop Joe N. Gravely Jr.

Bishop Gravely Jr. shared many stories at the ceremony, and was met with laughter and applause throughout his speech.

He closed by saying he learned a lot from East Martinsville School. One thing was how to be kind, which is something he believes the world is missing a lot of right now, but is confident we can find our way back.

Here is more information from VDHR:

“This weekend a state historical marker issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated that highlights the origins and history of Dry Bridge School (later renamed East Martinsville School), which opened in 1928 to serve African American students in Henry County during the era of segregation in public education.

The public dedication ceremony for the marker will be held Saturday, October 2, beginning at 11 a.m., at the marker’s location along East Church Street, just east of Boden Street and near the entrance to the MARC Workshop, where attendees may park.

Event speakers will include Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson; Donna Dillard, chair of the Martinsville City School Board; Renee Brown, principal of Albert Harris Elementary School; Bishop Joe N. Gravely Jr., a former student at East Martinsville School; the Reverends Charles R. Whitfield and Ruben H. Martin Jr.; and Karice Luck-Brimmer, a member of the Virginia Board of Historic Resources. Current Martinsville High School senior Savannah Brown will lead the unveiling of the marker.

Dry Bridge School was the result of a community campaign led by the Rev. W. F. Geter to replace the original Dry Bridge Colored School. Rev. Geter and African Americans living east of Martinsville, then part of Henry County, formed the School Improvement League to carry out their advocacy.

Funding for the new Dry Bridge School came from the Black community, the public, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, which helped to build more than 5,000 schools for African American students in the South between 1917 and 1932. Dry Bridge School, later renamed East Martinsville School after Martinsville annexed that area of Henry County in 1948, served students in grades 1-8. It closed in 1968 as the city desegregated its schools.

The marker was approved for manufacture and installation earlier this year by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which is authorized to designate new state historical markers. The marker’s manufacturing costs were covered by its sponsor, Imogene Hodge Draper, a retired educator and former student of East Martinsville School.

Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority such as the City of Martinsville.”

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