They Closed Their Schools
“They Closed Their Schools” occupies both the Front Entry Hall and the next classroom and will tell the story of how Prince Edward County chooses to close their school system rather than integrate them. The exhibition within this space covers the period 1959 through 1963. The exhibition here focuses on local (county) action and deals with such topics as the closing of the public schools, the opening of Prince Edward Academy, state action in support of the local government, intervention strategies of the American Friends Service Committee and others, and the Prince Edward County Diaspora. The Front Entry Hall will provide a place for the visitor to take a rest and sit for a spell while student alumni voices read from newspaper articles and period accounts of how the County made plans for closing the public schools while making preparations to construct a new private school for white students.
Visitors can explore the newspapers from the time and read for themselves, or just sit and listen to the student voices before moving into the next classroom where they will be presented with the choices parents and students had to make in the face of the school closing. Upon entering, the visitor will be confronted with the image of the closed schools with the “No Trespassing” signs up. The visitor will then be confronted with a choice between three paths, 1) New School where they can explore what happened to students that went to the Academy, 2) New School where they can explore what happened to students that left Prince Edward County for other educational opportunities, or 3) No School where the visitor will meet students that did not have access to school during the four years between 1959 and 1963.
The visitor is free to explore all three paths ending up at the “Experience Wall.” Video screens will be mounted on the Experience Wall with changing images and short videos presenting oral history accounts from students who had all three types of experiences. These pieces will run continuously and can be added to over time as new interviews with students are recorded. A large wall map will help the visitor to understand the diaspora created by the closing of the schools. Niches within the gallery will allow the visitor a look into the Academy classrooms, when you are on the Academy path, and a look inside of the Training Centers, if you are on the No School path. As the visitor moves to the end of the experience wall, they encounter the Kennedy administration and learn of their interest in the situation in Prince Edward County.
Rounding the corner heading towards the exit from this gallery, the visitor is presented with images of Farmville in the Summer of 1963 and as they look across the room to the end wall, they see, full size, the photomural of the Prince Edward students as they participate in the march on washington set against the image of the crowd on the National Mall at the MLK speech. Just before exiting this gallery, the visitor is introduced to the Free School and the key individuals that are working in the summer of 1963 to bring public education back to Prince Edward County in some way with the support of the Kennedy administration. The visitor leaves the march on Washington and steps through the doorway into the last classroom gallery and into the preparation for the first day of the Free Schools.