African American History on the Eastern Shore

Calvin L. Brickhouse: Committed to Our Community

Jazmine Collins

During Black History Month observance, emphasis is often placed on “firsts.” Trailblazing African American men and women who break barriers, accomplish feats, or enter into a field previously barred to the race as a whole are hailed as heroes in the annals of American history. While the pivotal impacts and accomplishments of these people cannot be denied, the path they forge is often followed by others whose impact and leadership are just as vital. African American history is full of influencers whose legacies endure into our present. One such influential leader in local history is Calvin Leavenworth Brickhouse, an educator in Northampton County, Virginia, whose personal and professional legacy is an example of such continuity. 

Calvin L. Brickhouse, the first of his parents’ five children, was born in 1934 to a family with generational history and heritage in Northampton County. He recalled childhood opportunities of helping his father in his dry cleaning business and helping his grandfather on the farm.  A career in education, however, became his pursuit.  

Brickhouse’s education started at Hare Valley Elementary School.  He later graduated in 1951 from Northampton County High School.  He was noted in his senior class superlatives as both “best student” and “most likely to succeed.”   Following high school, he enrolled as an agricultural mechanical major with a science minor at Virginia State College, now VSU, to pursue his ambition of becoming a vocational agriculture teacher. 

Brickhouse’s elementary and high schools were all African American schools.  Hare Valley Elementary today serves as the location of the Eastern Shore Area Agency on Aging and Headstart.  The Northampton County High School building is still in Machipongo and serves as a County Parks and Recreation facility.  While Brickhouse’s own education was during segregation, his career spanned over the time of desegregation, where his leadership helped serve students during the integration process.

Following his college graduation in 1955, he taught in Spotsylvania County for two years at the John J. Wright School. It was in Spotsylvania that he met his wife Audrey, whom he married in 1957. Shortly after, he was called into military service.  An Eastern Shore News article in 1989 relates that after two years of duty, Calvin Brickhouse was ready to return to teaching.  After inquiring into positions, Northampton County administrators were so eager to have him that they were able to get Brickhouse an early discharge in time for the 1959-1960 school term.  That year, he began his tenure at Northampton County High School, where he had attended as a youth, teaching science and a sophomore class home-room. 

Six years later, with a Master’s degree, Calvin became assistant principal while also spending half his day still teaching science.  In 1968 just two years later, became principal of Northampton County High School.  The beginning of his career in education was fraught with national tensions over desegregation of education. In Northampton County, integration progressed over a period of years, and by 1970 the Northampton High School in Eastville became the sole integrated public high school for the county.  The now former African American high school, where Brickhouse was principal, became the Northampton Junior High School for seventh through ninth grades. In 1979, the ninth-grade level became part of the high school, and the Junior High was renamed Northampton Middle School, where Brickhouse remained principal until he retired in 1994. 

Mr. Brickhouse, as his former students call him with loving respect, was fervent about the importance of education.  He sponsored the College Bound activity club during his tenure and pushed for improvements in the school’s curriculum and facility.  His former students recall the principles that he instilled in them.  For example, he stressed taking responsibility for one’s actions, and he put emphasis on having a well-round education.  He is remembered as tough but fair, patient, and passionate in both education and instilling life and leadership skills in his students. 

Brickhouse was truly dedicated to his community. His dedication to his faith in God was premier in his life. He was a member of Bethel Baptist Church in Franktown and chair of its Trustee Board.  Brickhouse was honored for more than 50 years of service to Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.  He served on the County Redistricting Committee, and Joint Planning District Commission and was appointed to the Board of Trustees for the Northampton Accomack Memorial Hospital in the late 1980s.  He was a member of the Northampton Democratic Committee. He went on to serve for years on the board of Eastern Shore Rural Health, and the new health center building in Eastville is named in his honor. In addition to his civic and community service, Brickhouse continued his dedication to education after retirement by serving for two terms on the Northampton County School Board, before his passing in 2013. 

What drove Calvin Brickhouse to pursue a career in education? What drove him to set aside teaching science, which he was so “in love with,” to pursue school administration? Certainly, his family and upbringing are a significant factor in the value he placed on education.  While operating a dry cleaning business, his father also was a bus driver for Northampton County High School, and his mother worked in the cafeteria for a while. School, it would seem, was substantially connected to his home and family life. Calvin’s brother, Frasier Brickhouse, also became a teacher, and when Calvin’s career in Northampton began, the two brothers were both educators at the same school. 

The most significant bearing on his education and career, according to Brickhouse himself, were the educators who taught him. He credits the influence of Charles N. Williams, who taught agriculture and mechanics for nearly twenty-five years.  Williams inspired his motivation to become an educator and his choice of major. Williams also encouraged his participation in activities that would develop his leadership and communication skills—skills that Brickhouse would later emphasize with his own students. 

He also credited the influence of William H. Smith, who served as principal of Northampton County High School for twenty years and previously served as principal for Cape Charles Elementary School.   It was Smith’s urging that pushed Brickhouse into administration, becoming Smith’s assistant principal and succeeding him soon after Smith went on to be Superintendent in charge of Federal Projects, a position in the division office.  Both of these men, with their own noteworthy legacies as educators, served as “mentors and role models” for Brickhouse, helping him envision and achieve his own goals.  

Today, Michael Brickhouse, Calvin’s son, is a teacher in Northampton County, following his father as an educator and influencer of tomorrow’s generation.  Michael recalls that his father taught him the importance of commitment to the community, and he has been a Volunteer Fire Fighter for over twenty years.  Inspired by the leaders that came before him, Calvin L. Brickhouse strove for the best possible education for his students and for improvements in his community. His own legacy will continue to inspire future generations of educators and leaders. 

Some of the information in this article was found in The Lighthouse Yearbooks, in the Eastern Shore Public Library’s digitized Yearbooks Collection, available online at Find these and over 150 yearbooks from Accomack and Northampton counties on the digital history page, under the Genealogy tab. 

Fears, Candy. “Calvin Brickhouse does his lifetime mentors proud.” Eastern Shore News, May 3rd, 1989.

Interview with Michael Brickhouse. February 14, 2022.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1951. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1960. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1967. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1969. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1970. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Obituary. Morris Funeral Home. Calvin L. Brickhouse, June 6, 1934 – September 13, 2013.

Williams, Ida B. “A History of Education for African Americans During the Segregation Period, 1886 through 1970 in Northampton County, Virginia. Mastoff Press, 2007. 


Calvin Brickhouse with his first homeroom class in Northampton County High School. 

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1960. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.

Northampton County High School. The Lighthouse, 1969. Yearbooks.  Eastern Shore Public Library.