- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - The Roanoke school system once budgeted $1 million for a new school, according to a dated capital plan, back when the entire annual school operating budget was just a couple of million dollars.

Newspaper ads boasted $300 a month for secretary positions and mops on sale for 27 cents.

The 1949-50 capital spending plan hints at the racial segregation that persisted for another decade-plus. The plan has a column for race, marked with an “N” for Negro or a “W” for white schools.

For 64 years, small tokens of that history have been inside the walls of the now closed Huff Lane Intermediate School.

The school was shuttered by the school board in 2010 as a cost-saving measuring, but demolition work didn’t begin until this year, after it was sold to make way for a planned development. Inside the building’s cornerstone, a contractor found a heavy metal box, a time capsule from June 18, 1950.

A citizen who recalled the capsule’s placement contacted the school system asking contractors to retrieve the box if they found it during the course of the demolition. It was found earlier this month, opened and given to the Roanoke City Public Schools.

“We were all stunned how great of a condition it’s in,” system spokesman Justin McLeod said.

More than a dozen artifacts, including coins, stamps, newspapers, school rolls, a system budget, a brochure for a bond campaign and even a booklet of traffic laws, all found their way into the small box. The newspapers were yellowed, but aside from that, the capsule’s contents looked mostly unchanged from decades of storage.

Also inside was a program from the cornerstone laying ceremony at Huff Lane. The Monroe Junior High School Band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then-school board Chairman LeRoy Smith offered remarks, according to the program.

While no official plans for the box and its contents have been made, McLeod said there’s discussion of it going to the Virginia Room, the city library’s collection of historical resources.

McLeod said hopefully the history eventually be can be shared with the city’s students. Learning from history, he said, is a good thing.

Looking through the capsule’s contents has been interesting, he said.

“I think it’s just fun to see what was popular at the time in Roanoke,” McLeod said, adding it’s also interesting to see how in some ways it’s similar to what’s relevant today.

For example, a brochure from the Chamber of Commerce that touts the area’s recreational amenities and downtown offerings isn’t much different from what Roanokers might expect to see today.

A headline from a June 11, 1950, edition of The Roanoke Times also declares: “Truman blasts Russia for war moves,” a headline that in some ways echoes the United States’ current relationship with Russia. (It was just two weeks before Soviet-backed North Korean troops invaded the Republic of Korea, starting of the Korean War.)

The box and its contents are being held by the school system before they are expected to be returned to the city.


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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