The George Washington Carver Alumni Association “Brickway of History” was recently completed in front of the historic Black regional high school along U.S. Route 15 in Culpeper County.
Alumnus Les Daniel spent Labor Day weekend overseeing installation of the last of some 900 engraved bricks that create a pathway from the formerly segregated school’s front door to the flagpole. The 81-year-old launched the project five years ago and contributed substantially to its completion in physical work and financial resources.
The bricks bear the names of local leaders, Carver students and teachers, sponsoring businesses and supporters as well as national African-American figures like Barack Obama, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna, Oprah Winfrey and Rep. John Lewis.
Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X made the walkway. There are funny phrases, serious sentiments and embossed images all telling a story born in one man’s devotion to his alma mater.
“I want to give something back to this school, show it some kind of respect,” said Daniel, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam and spent 40 years as a communications specialist with the federal multimedia agency, Voice of America.
Born and raised in Orange County, the 1957 Carver graduate lived for playing basketball at the school and often slept over at teachers houses so he could attend practices and games. Daniel was the first in his family to attend college, but he learned something more important at Carver.
“I had common sense, that’s what my grandfather said, ‘Education is no good unless you have common sense.’ I learned most of that here,” he said.
One brick honors Daniel’s agriculture teacher and esteemed educator, the late Dr. Freddie Nicholas, who went on to become president of John Tyler Community College near Richmond and interim chancellor for the Virginia Community College System.
“He was my godfather,” said Daniel, pointing over his shoulder at where Nicholas used to live and where he stayed many a night. “He just adopted me.”
A trio of bricks lists the names of students he graduated with in 1957 who went on to enlist in the military—one each in the Air Force, Marines and Navy. Daniel, on other hand, got drafted into the Army in 1963, right before the March On Washington that August.
He said he was involved in the civil rights movement in D.C. at the time he got called up to serve, and his mother was thankful. If he hadn’t been in the Army, Daniel said he would have been beside recently passed John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. for the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march in Alabama during which Lewis was brutally beaten by police.
“I probably would have been killed because I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut,” Daniel said.
As it turns out, the Carver graduate got recruited for the Army basketball team and into the special services, where he helped set up the stage for Bob Hope’s 1964 visit to Vietnam. Daniel was spared the battlefield.
Asked about today’s civil rights movement, Daniel said it’s going backwards while acknowledging progress since the segregated schools he attended.
“You got all these riots out here going back to like in the ‘60s. They’re protesting about the same thing they were before. I saw a man going down the street breaking out windows,” he said.
Diverting from today’s divisive politics, he admired the finished brick walkway project, saying the time was well spent. He knows where most of each of the bricks is placed and promised to recognize each supporter.
“I spent five years on this, five years in high school. It’s been a good thing for me being 81 years old, give me something to do,” Daniel said.
He added he would attend Carver all over again if he could.
“I’d come out better. I’d come out an A-student instead of a C-student,” he said.
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