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Honoring Our Hidden Figures: Jennie Dean

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

Statues and monuments have been trending topics in Virginia over the past month. Most conversations surround the discussion of rather to remove statues, or to add information to tell complete stories. However, the conversation is different in the City of Manassas; there's no debate when it comes to honoring a legend whose lifework expands generations like Jennie Dean!

Beautiful Black woman with glasses, nicely dressed.
A photo of Jennie Dean from the City of Manassas.

“We have many statues and memorials here in the Washington, DC area…but erecting yet another statue to commemorate a "Hidden Figure" – is creating a Legacy of Education and Perseverance. We have to remember that African American History is America's history. - Mrs. Kisha Wilson-Sogunro Parks, Culture and Recreation Manager for the City of Manassas.

Who is Jennie Dean:

Despite being born into slavery in 1848 and without the benefit of a formal education, Jane “Jennie” Serepta Dean’s vision changed the lives of countless area African Americans. While working as a domestic servant in Washington, she travelled home by train on weekends to train “her people” in life skills, establish Sunday schools, and finally, to establish the Manassas Industrial School in 1893, mostly with funds she raised from prominent East Coast philanthropists. The school provided both academic and vocational training within a Christian setting on its 100-acre campus. The school allowed students to earn their tuition and board through its industries, and products they sold also supported the school. After Dean’s death in 1913, the campus became a regional high school for African Americans in 1938, and was later home to an integrated high school, middle school, and elementary school.

Bricks outlining the frame of the original Jennie Dean School.
Frame of original Jennie Dean School. -wiki commons.

The Statue

It is her outstretched hand and sense of motion that captures the hearts of those who see the model of the Jennie Dean statue now being fabricated as part of the Jennie Dean Memorial Update. Even the small model conveys all that Jennie Dean was: a woman devoted to moving forward and lifting those who needed a hand.

The statue depicts Jennie Dean, who was born into slavery, worked as a domestic, and managed to fundraiser among the nation’s elite to found The Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth in 1893, a school that filled a deep void in her segregated community and lifted the prospects of thousands of area youth. The school provided both vocational and academic training in a residential setting to high school-aged students who traveled from many surrounding counties. Many alumni went on to successful professional careers and were civic leaders.

The present five-acre Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial, located at the site of the original school on the corner of Prince William Street and Wellington Road, was dedicated in 1995. It includes replicated foundations, an information kiosk, a model of the original campus, parking, and gravel walkways. It does not include a statue of Jennie Dean, which was part of the Memorial’s original plan. The statue will be the new focal point of the Memorial, surrounded by a plaza with benches, new landscaping, and a walkway where visitors will be encouraged to linger.

Local artist and Museum volunteer sculpted the life-sized statue that is now being bronzed at the foundry. Rather than design a sculpture protected by fences that may never be touched, Hill always envisioned visitors interacting with the piece. Dean’s hand will be at about eye level, and Hill looks forward to seeing visitors grasp it. “Over time, I hope that people will take her hand and wear away its patina. When this hand begins to polish and shine, it will reflect the engagement Jennie Dean continues to inspire in the community.”

“I think sometimes we forget that we live in an area full of rich history and consequential stories—because of people like Ms. Jennie Dean,” says Kisha Wilson-Sogunro, City of Manassas Parks, Culture and Recreation Manager. Wilson-Sogunro, who has been charged with fundraising for the statue, knows that this project is unique.

“This statue will stand as a constant reminder that there was once a time where only some kids could receive education – and Jennie Dean helped make it possible for ALL of the kids in this area to receive education,” Wilson-Sogunro observes. “Her statue will stand as a reminder for all kids in our area to appreciate the freedom and opportunities they have to receive an education – because people like Jennie Dean helped make that legacy possible.”

The Memorial Update Campaign has so far reached $149,000 of its $175,000 goal, and opportunities to fund sculptures at the statue’s base, and other plaza updates are still available. Visit fundraising link here for more information or to donate.


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