Every week in the month of February, the Spotsylvania County Museum is featuring notable historical figures who are from or have impacted Spotsylvania County to honor Black History Month.
On November 18, 1863, Louisa Alsop gave birth to a son, John J. Wright, at Blanton Farm in Massaponax, Virginia. As they were recently freed from slavery, Louisa and her husband were unable to provide John with a quality education, and along with many other free Blacks in Spotsylvania County, there was little opportunity for proper schooling and career advancements. He attended a one room schoolhouse for Black children on what is today’s Route 1 where he showed exceptional abilities and intellectual promise.
Source: Library of Virginia
Determined to further his education, John attended Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now known as Virginia State College) and graduated with honors in 1894. After graduation, he returned to Spotsylvania County and obtained his first job teaching at the same one room school house he attended as a young student. Now a young man, he married Jennie Garnett, an old classmate, and together had one daughter, Jeanette Wright Boyer in 1898. His wife Jennie passed away shortly after the birth of his daughter, and he soon married Cora Jackson at Beulah Baptist Church on April 16, 1902. Together they had one son, Jesse Wright.
Snell Training School
Source: John J. Wright Museum
John J. Wright strongly promoted the notion that a proper education and ability to own land would set up the Black population for success. In 1905 he began a coalition called the Spotsylvania Sunday School Union, which consisted of local African American churches collecting money for the county’s first secondary school for Black students. Starting with just $1.25, they eventually raised $47,550 and were able to buy land, build the Snell Training School, and hire salaried teachers. Full construction on the Snell Training School was completed in 1920, but the first school room opened to 47 students from grades 1-7, in 1913.
John J. Wright was the Snell Training School’s first principal and when the school was completed in 1920, it consisted of four classrooms, twelve bedrooms, and four rooms in the basement that served as a cafeteria and kitchen. Over the years, a few more classrooms were added in addition to a library.
Source: The Free Lance-Star via Spotsylvania Memory
On January 2, 1931, Wright passed away from a stroke while in his Spotsylvania home. Just three years later in 1934, the school was accredited by the State Department of Education.
Source: John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center
John J. Wright is buried next to his wife, Cora, in the Beulah Baptist Church cemetery. After his death, the Snell Training school was renamed to John J. Wright School to honor his dedication to providing exemplary education, opportunities, and leadership to the Black youth of Spotsylvania County. He devoted 33 years to teaching in Spotsylvania County, served as the clerk of Beulah Baptist Church for over 30 years, was the secretary of the Mattaponi District Association, and the President of the Bass Memorial Hospital Association.
Today his legacy is honored by the John J. Wright Educational and Cultural Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the African American history of Spotsylvania County, Virginia.