Legacy of J. Murray Brooks to be honored at Founder’s Day
Last year, for its inaugural Founder’s Day program, Thomas Hunter Middle School focused on the building’s namesake and the school itself, an institution that provided many of Mathews County’s black residents with an education and a shot at a better life in the days of racial segregation.
This year, the spotlight is being turned on principal J. Murray Brooks, the man who helped guide that school from its earliest days to the cusp of the modern era.
The second annual Thomas Hunter Founder’s Day will begin at 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 2, in the school’s multi-purpose room. Prior to the program, starting at 5:30 p.m., the school will hold a barbecue dinner, prepared by Nelda Gibbs and her cafeteria staff. The cost is $7. The school will hold its book fair and Founder’s Day displays will be set up, starting at 6.
When Brooks grew up in Mathews, unless you had a family member who lived in an area where there was a black high school, your educational opportunities were limited. Fortunately for Brooks, he was shipped off to a family member in Middlesex County so he could attend the Middlesex County Training School under the tutelage of principal John Henry St. Clare Walker.
The situation for Mathews County’s black community changed in 1927, when the Thomas Hunter Agriculture and Training School (later Thomas Hunter High School) opened its doors. Six years later, after earning his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Union University and teaching for a few years (including at the same school in Blakes where his mother taught), Brooks returned to Mathews to begin a 28-year career as Thomas Hunter’s principal.
“He was a pioneer in education,” Amy P. Hauser said of Brooks. Hauser, who currently is assistant principal at Thomas Hunter Middle School, started this annual observance of Thomas Hunter School’s history.