Black History Month Feature: Rozier D. Lyles and Jane A. Solomon Crouch

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The school known today as Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy opened in 1935 to serve the growing Black community on the south side of the City of Alexandria. The school was named to recognize the contributions of two local educators of color: Rozier D. Lyles and Jane A. Solomon Crouch. We share their stories as part of our recognition of Black History Month, “Celebrating Legends, Building Legacies.”

Rozier D. Lyles

Rozier D. Lyles was born in 1863 in Alexandria as a free person of color, as both of his parents were also born as free people. When his father, Reverend Richard H. Lyles, was a teenager, he worked for a white school that was run by the Hallowell family. His father’s exposure to education may have served as the inspiration for Lyles to become a teacher.

Lyles started teaching elementary school around 1883 at the Snowden School, Alexandria’s first public school for African American boys. In 1889, he married Mary Etta Henderson. She died by 1892 and Lyles never married again.

When Parker-Gray School opened in 1920, Lyles became one of 11 instructors selected to be the first to teach at the new school. Lyles taught sixth grade and was known as a strict teacher. He focused on mathematics, which prompted his students to nickname him “Mr. Mathematics.” Lyles retired at the end of the school year in 1929, after he had spent 46 years as a teacher in Alexandria.

In his retirement, Lyles found employment with the Belle Haven Golf and Country Club. On Nov. 30, 1933, Lyles died. Less than two years after his death, Lyles-Crouch School opened. With the school named in his honor, his family and former students saw that Mr. Mathematics would always be remembered.

Jane A. Solomon Crouch

Jane A. Solomon Crouch was born free in Alexandria, although her father had been enslaved. She and her sister Sarah attended St. Frances Academy in Baltimore. Crouch also had attended a school in Alexandria run by a woman named Sylvia Rogers.

During the years of slavery, it was against the law in many states to teach enslaved people to read and write. In Alexandria, which was part of the District of Columbia at the time, there were some opportunities for African Americans to attend school. When Alexandria again became part of Virginia in 1847, authorities cracked down and closed such schools.

As a young woman, Crouch wanted to use her education to teach others of her race. While she feared the risk of teaching enslaved children, she did teach free people of color. When the Civil War began in 1861, Union troops immediately occupied Alexandria and soon, hundreds and then thousands of people seeking freedom from slavery came to Alexandria. Crouch and others saw the importance of empowering them through education, and, in October 1861, she and Sarah Gray established the St. Rose Institute on South West Street where former slaves could attend school in the evening.

Jane Solomon had married Frederick W. Nicholls Crouch and the couple’s daughter, Carrie, was born around 1867. After years of teaching during slavery and wartime, Crouch became officially qualified through an examination to teach public school in Alexandria in 1870. She first taught second-grade girls and later third and fourth grade at the Hallowell School. She continued to improve her own skills, attending a summer session at what today is Hampton University.

During the 1881-82 school year, Crouch became seriously ill and was unable to continue teaching. On March 12, 1882, she died of a respiratory infection. According to one account, her funeral at St. Mary’s Church brought an “overflowing attendance.” Alexandria officials recalled her as being an “excellent disciplinarian and devoted to her work” and also noted that “though her acquirements were limited, she made the best use of them for the elevation of her race, and deserves their grateful remembrance.”

The contributions and commitment of Jane A. Solomon Crouch were remembered more than 50 years later when a new school bearing her name opened to serve Alexandria’s African American students, and her legacy continues today with the Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy.