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Pamunkey Schoolhouse Photograph, May 31, 1937

CONTENT WARNING

Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 

Context

Indigenous and Native American peoples, including Virginia Indian tribes were not considered American citizens even after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. They often faced discrimination and were denied the equal protection of the laws. Under segregation laws, Virginia Indian children could not attend public schools in Virginia unless they were willing to attend schools established for Black children. Between 1880 and 1920, many Indigenous and Native American communities established their own schools rather than attend Black schools. In this way, Indigenous peoples resisted the color line by insisting on the creation of “Indian” as a third category. In Virginia, the Pamunkey tribe went so far as to carry membership cards with them so they could not be forced onto the “colored” railway coaches or other segregated services. The Pamunkey Tribe established its own school, which consisted of a single-story frame building.

The Pamunkey Indian Reservation was established in 1646 and may be the oldest reservation in North America. The Pamunkey, Mattaponi, and Upper Mattaponi tribes, who still reside on ancient tribal reservations in King William County, had been exempt from taxation since the seventeenth century and did not initially gain access to the local public schools. Even after the first statewide system of public schools was created in 1870, Virginia Indian tribes may not have been included. The Pamunkey Indian School was a one-room frame schoolhouse established in May 1909. Students from grades 1–7 attended the school. As a result of the school segregation laws enacted in Virginia, students wishing to continue their education either had to leave home to attend a government school specifically designed for Indigenous or Native American peoples in other states or they had to quit school before completing their education. The Pamunkey School closed due to low attendance in 1948, and the remaining students were transferred to the Mattaponi Reservation School. The Pamunkey Indian School is now part of the tribal museum on the Pamunkey Reservation.

Citation: Pamunkey Schoolhouse Photograph, May 31, 1937; Pamunkey Indian School, Pamunkey Indian Reservation, King William County, School Buildings Service Photograph Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia

Standards

VS.1, VS.2, VS.9, USII.1, CE.1, CE.3, VUS.1, VUS.8, GOVT.1, GOVT.3

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity
Look at It: Look carefully at the Pamunkey School House photograph. From the picture, what can you assume about the size of the school? What do you think it might have been like to attend the school? What do you notice about the children in the photograph?

Post Activities
Analyze: Why do you think Indigenous and Native peoples were not considered American citizens? Why do you think they were treated this way?

Current Connections: The Pamunkey Indian School building still stands on the Pamunkey Indian Reservation as part of a museum and cultural center. Why is important for this building to be left intact? What might is symbolize for the Pamunkey people?