A black college closed in 1955, but its fading alumni fight to pass on a legacy

(Courtesy of the Washington Post)

In 1865, a primary school for former slaves was started in historic Harpers Ferry, W. Va. By 1867 it became Storer College, and ultimately a sanctuary for young African Americans. Storer was one of the many schools that opened after the Civil War to educate a population that had been legally denied a chance to learn. Above, students Isabelle Stewart, Raymond McNeal and Odetta Johnson hold a school pennant in 1917. (West Virginia and Regional History Center)

In 1865, a primary school for former slaves was started in historic Harpers Ferry, W. Va. By 1867 it became Storer College, and ultimately a sanctuary for young African Americans. Storer was one of the many schools that opened after the Civil War to educate a population that had been legally denied a chance to learn. Above, students Isabelle Stewart, Raymond McNeal and Odetta Johnson hold a school pennant in 1917. (West Virginia and Regional History Center)

William Vollin remembers first climbing the hill to Storer College in 1947.

He was 16, a black kid on scholarship who arrived at Harpers Ferry, W.Va., with a change of clothing in a paper sack.

“I was just a nice little boy, not sophisticated,” says Vollin, 84, who sports a silver mustache, stylish spectacles and a wry smile.

“No way in the world would I stay there,” he thought back then of the bare-bones place that left him cold and homesick. He wanted to hop a train home to Arlington, Va., where he lived in public housing with his family.

But he stayed, and gradually campus life took hold. Vollin played football at Storer, met Anna Mildred Roy — they have been married 62 years — and fortified his belief that he was equal to any person, black or white.

Which is why on an August afternoon, Vollin, a retired educator who lives in Southeast Washington, is back in Harpers Ferry for the annual Storer reunion. And why his son, David Vollin, 53, is by his side. Growing up, David’s sisters, Sharon and Angela Vollin, were also regulars.

“I’ve been coming since I was a kid,” the son says.

With alumni “leaving this earth very rapidly,” the father says, he and others have taught their children to remember.

His daughter Sharon, a librarian, says of alumni, “They all have stories to tell that are deep and beautiful and rich.”

Storer started as a primary school in 1865, weathering racist attacks because it dared educate African Americans.

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