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Standing on her tiptoes atop a chair in the back of the auditorium at a Billy Graham concert, a five-year-old girl strains to see the source of the mesmerizing piano music she heard. When the concert was over, the girl and her mother stood waiting to meet the pianist who had so enchanted her. Talking to each other for the first time, the two shook hands and formed a life-long bond, the little white girl and the black pianist.

Piano teacher Queenie Taylor Williams was the first Storer College graduate that Shepherd education professor Dr. Dawne Raines Burke '95 met. Williams's influence led Burke to become a classically trained pianist, and it was her legacy of involvement in social justice and positive change that led to Dr. Burke's first book, An American Phoenix: A History of Storer College from Slavery to Desegregation, published in August 2006 by Geyer Printing House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The book chronicles the nine-decade history of Storer College, located in Harpers Ferry. Storer opened its doors at the close of the Civil War, becoming the first institution of higher learning and the first normal school to which African-Americans could be admitted in West Virginia. While the college remains open as a National Park Service training facility, it ended its run as an educational institution in 1955 after the landmark Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, decision.

"It's a beautiful story," said Dr. Burke. "It's truly the American story. It's about persons who under extreme difficulty became participatory citizens. They rose above societal obstacles in order to execute their fullest citizenship."

For Burke, the Storer College story represents what Williams stood for. The founders of Storer came together to create the school because it was the right thing to do. They sacrificed themselves on every level--social, political, and economic--to do so. Their work guided this region of West Virginia toward positive social change and social justice. "It demonstrated how two different cultures came together for the common goal behind the Jeffersonian ideal of an American republic during one of the nation's darkest hours," said the author.

In 1999 the Martinsburg native began her exploration into the institution that represents the principles she believes in as part of her doctoral research at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Five years and 500 pages later, her dissertation was complete. Burke then spent two years transforming the 500-page work into the 158-page book she had envisioned from the beginning. While the writing process was long and lonely and, at times, even painful, the Shepherd professor said she wouldn't change anything. "As painful as the writing process was, I learned much more about the person in the dissertation than the process of dissertation."

Aside from learning about herself, the process has given her an ability to understand and appreciate our most common characteristic--humanity--while also changing her in such a way that makes her a better instructor for her students. According to Dr. Burke, a historical researcher must maintain objectivity and look beyond the smooth surface of things. By doing this, she has learned how to best help her students. "If what I do can help one individual be successful and feel fulfilled as a human being, I would be immensely grateful."

The students who are now benefiting from Dr. Burke's knowledge are the ones sitting in the same seats she once sat in. Burke graduated from Shepherd in 1995 with a bachelor of arts degree from the Department of Education and returned in 2004 as an assistant professor of education. The former student said she is not treated differently by the faculty, but that they see her as that which is possible. "I merely represent a transitional link in the chain that we call teacher education here at Shepherd University," said Dr. Burke.

The professor is planning a second book on Storer College. It, however, will be a more in-depth and critical exploration of the school's history, ensuring that Queenie Taylor Williams's legacy will live on.

Bethany Davidson

Following the Civil War's destruction, America underwent an extended period of reconstruction. Storer College grew out of several efforts exerted by the Free Will Baptists, a northern denomination under the aegis of the Northern Baptist Convention, who believed that education should be the primary focus for improving freedmen in the Lower Shenandoah Valley Region in West Virginia.

Storer College was first established in West Virginia by the Free Will Baptists Home Mission Society through its Shenandoah Mission center, as the Harpers Ferry Mission School in 1865. In time, the institution experienced four overlapping developmental phases: (a) Mission School, 1865-1867, (b) Secondary Division, 1867-1884, (c) Secondary Expansion Division, 1884-1921, and (d) Collegiate Division, 1921-1955 before its closure in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board et al. v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas decision.

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