CITY OF MANASSAS, Va. (WDVM) — In 1893, ex-slave Jennie Dean made the impossible, possible, and opened an industrial school for African American boys and girls. The Manassas Industrial School would eventually teach hundreds of students important trade skills like agriculture, welding, and cooking.
Manassas Museum curator Mary Helen Dellinger says Dean traveled to Boston and New York to raise money. Over 100 years later, the City of Manassas is following her lead, raising money to update its memorial and to erect a six-foot-tall bronze statue, designed and produced by local artist Chris Hill.
The city opened a memorial outside of Jennie Dean Elementary School in 1995. “The plaza will be a great place for people to be able to relax, stay for a while, reflect on where they are, enjoy the natural setting that they’re in and the beauty of that historic site,” Dellinger said.
“This is as much a part of me as it is a part of the community, so it’s an honor,” Hill said. Hill was a volunteer for the Manassas Museum (who happened to be experienced in molding bronze sculptures) when he heard about the plans to update the memorial. He pitched his design and it was selected.
Hill designed the statue for Dean’s mission to educate the head, the heart, and the hand. A smiling Dean leans forward with her hand extended. Her dress blows back in the wind. “The head, the heart, and the hand is a natural extension of someone reaching out their left hand, which also leads to her reaching out her hand to the community,” said Hill. If you’re eye level with her hand, Dean will smile down at you.
“I wanted to have that interaction: when you look into her eyes and take her hand at the same time,” Hill said.