The 1962 photograph is soul-stirring — a preteen Black student, standing alone, far apart from classmates outside the previously all-white Maury Middle School, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The evocative image of the young man, on the day he desegregated the school was taken by a photographer with the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, and has been displayed for years on the public school system’s website, in the retelling of its once-segregated past.
Yet, 60 years later? “Nobody ever knew who he was,” marveled Chris Williams, assistant director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center at the University of Mary Washington. “There was no name in the newspaper when that picture was taken — it just said ‘a young Negro boy.'”
Finally, Williams and other researchers have learned the identity of the person in the picture, who attended the school named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, a founder of modern oceanography before joining the Confederacy during the Civil War.
“The first student to desegregate it was a young man by the name of Robert Christian,” Williams said. “He was 12 years old.”
Now, Williams and other researchers are set to unveil a Fredericksburg civil rights trail, entitled “Freedom, a Work in Progress,” on Thursday. The three-mile walking trail will guide participants through post-Civil War history in the city, including the site of the former school, which closed in 1980 and was converted into condominiums in 2007.