State Regrets School Closings Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision

December 2005

Courtesy of The Crisis Magazine November/December 2005

When the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision made public school desegregation the law of the land. many Whites resisted. Perhaps none so vehe­mently as those in Prince Edward County Va.. which closed its public schools rather than allow Black and White children to sit together in the same classroom. Between 1959 and 1964. Black children were either forced to go outside the county or state for an education, or go without one, while many White children went to a privately funded academy.

Now, 50 years after this act of “massive resistance.” the state of Virginia has acknowledged its racist past and attempted to make amends for its support of segregation by awarding schol­arships to residents who were denied access to a public education. The state, with the help of a billionaire investor, is providing up to $5,500 to residents seeking a high school diploma, GED, undergraduate degree or technical-training certificate.

“The personal stories of those seeking scholarships to improve their lives and give back to their community were very moving.” said Senator Benjamin J. Lambert 111 (D-District 9), chairman of the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Committee in a statement. “These scholarships will help Virginia heal the wounds caused by massive resistance and offer edu­cational opportunity for those who were wrongly denied.”

When the Virginia Assembly was contemplating ways to express its “profound regret” for the school closings. Prince Edward County suggested issuing honorary high school diplomas as a solution. But Ken Woodley, editor of The Farmville Herald, a newspaper that once staunchly supported massive resistance, decided this wasn’t enough. Ashamed of his newspaper’s past. Woodley, who is White, recommended offering scholarships.

“If you are going to say you are sorry, you need to say I’m sorry, and here is what I’m going to do about it.” says Woodley.

Carl Eggleston. a 55-year-old funeral home owner and a recipient of one of those scholarships, was about to enter the third grade when the Prince Edward County schools were closed in 1959. Eggleston’s parents had to maintain two house­holds. renting a home in another county so that he could go to school. But for two years, he didn’t go to school at all.

“It is very gratifying to me. I’m in a class sitting next to a lady that I was deskmates with when the schools closed, and now we are back in the same circumstances that were interrupted years ago,” says Eggleston, who is working on a degree in business administration at St. Paul’s College in Farmville, Va.

“Now, we can finish what was undone years ago.”

- Robin M. Bennefield