Johnson-Williams Middle School Dedicates New Mary Patricia Reynolds Foyer

By Rebecca Maynard

On September 8, 1964, Mary Patricia Reynolds walked through the doors of Clarke County High School and quietly made history as its first Black student. Nearly 60 years later, on April 19, community members gathered at Johnson-Williams Middle School (which then was Clarke County High School) to dedicate the Mary Patricia Reynolds Foyer and unveil a new mural by Mikisa Shaajhante.

According to Encyclopedia Virginia, desegregation began in Virginia on February 2, 1959, after a nearly three-year battle in the federal courts. During these legal battles, the courts overturned many of Virginia’s anti-desegregation laws and eventually ordered the admittance of small numbers of Black students into formerly all-white schools in several locations. Following this initial school desegregation, public officials in Virginia tried to derail integration. Black students who sought to transfer into white schools were forced to go through a complex selection process. The majority of applicants 
were rejected. 

At the same time, state investigative committees attempted to reduce the influence of the NAACP in Virginia, and sought to make it more difficult for the organization to file additional school desegregation lawsuits in the state. As a result of these and other policies, school desegregation in Virginia proceeded slowly. As late as 1965, fewer than 12,000 of the approximately 235,000 Black students in Virginia went to 
desegregated schools.

“The Clarke County Board of Education in 1965 is to be commended for not choosing the course of action taken by Prince Edward County, who closed their public school system for five years to avoid desegregation,” said Dr. David James, a former history teacher for Clarke County Public Schools and one of the first three Black teachers who integrated the Clarke County High School faculty in 1966. 

“Today is a day of history. Mary Patricia Reynolds’ decision to attend Clarke County High School was perhaps the most challenging decision she would ever make in her young life as a teenager,” James said. “However, she was bold, brave, and courageous. She was a loving daughter, sister, a good student, an athlete, and a warm and engaging young lady. Mary Patricia Reynolds was successful and became a symbol for other students to follow. She should from this day forward be remembered with pride and admiration for the courage that she and her loving, supportive family needed when embarking on a path of uncertainty and potential danger in desegregating a high school in Virginia as a freedom of 
choice student.”

Johnson-Williams student Lia Staples spoke about Reynolds’ experiences. “When she came to Clarke County High, most people found her to be a very pleasant person,” Staples said. “Unfortunately, there were some students who didn’t feel the same as others and were rude and offensive to her. She had amazing self control and never gave in to taunting and bullying. She belonged to Future Home Builders of America and was on the basketball team. When Pat switched high schools, she faced hardships. She could have graduated valedictorian, but her grades did not transfer from Johnson-Williams. She joined the Marine Corps and passed away at the young age of 46. It should be known that her actions were just as important as those of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“I’m quite honored to be here,” said Dorothy Davis. “Eleven and a half years ago, Patricia’s mother, Mrs. Patricia Reynolds Maxwell, thought it was time for the school system, for the county, to give some notice to Patricia for all she’d done in her life, especially as the first Black graduate of Clarke County High School. She planted that seed, and her children nurtured it and it’s grown into what we have today. This would not have occurred without their tenacity. Mrs. Maxwell is not here in the flesh, but she’s looking down on us and she’s smiling at her children who pushed this forward, and she’s thankful for all of you who found this important enough 
to participate.”

Clifford Reynolds, Patricia’s younger brother, said he wanted to honor their mother, who had the insight in 1964 to speak to his sister about attending Clarke County High School.

“She said somebody had to open the door. I’m sure she didn’t know at that time that it would eventually become a historical event,” Reynolds said. “Mary Patricia, known as Tricia by her family and friends, was a determined person who wanted to do what was right. Even though she and Mama are no longer with us to celebrate this milestone, we are sure they are smiling down from heaven and rejoicing with us.”

Beth Williams, director of the Clarke County Education Foundation, explained that Reynolds’ family has been funding a yearly $500 scholarship in her honor since 2018. The foundation will be funding the scholarship this year, and community members are encouraged to donate so that the scholarship can become permanent. Visit or call 540-955-6103 for 
more information. 

“This dedication was a great honor for our school,” said Johnson-Williams Middle School assistant principal Yvonne Rivera. “The work isn’t done, and we still have things we need to do to make sure our schools are more inclusive.”

“Mary Patricia Reynolds should be admired by all students in Clarke County Public Schools, especially those of color, James said. “Students like her are our hope for the future. May this dedication become a permanent and positive symbol of change in Clarke County history.”