Team to Document Oral & Written Histories of Those Displaced by Prince Edward School Closing

A team has been organized to head the Robert Russa Moton Museum’s project that will document the oral and written histories of students displaced by the school closing from 1959 to 1964.

The team is made up of:  Samuel V. Wilson Jr., a research teacher who works with students in grades 11-12 at the Governor’s School of Southside. Wilson brings a background in technology, research, and journalism and is a leading member of the Moton Museum Education Advisory Committee.

Tommie McCune, an upper elementary grade teacher at Campbell County’s Alta Vista Elementary School. McCune is also a member of the Moton Museum Education Advisory Committee.

Jennings Custis, U.S. History and U.S. Government teacher at Fuqua School, located in Farmville.

The research effort is being funded by a $10,000 Save Our History national grant that will allow 300 students from local school districts in the 4th through 12th grade to help identify, locate and collect information about the students displaced when Prince Edward County’s public schools were from 1959 until 1964. The county’s board of supervisors cut off funding to the school system rather than comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s historical 1954 Brown decision to desegregate.

Moton is one of 11 history organizations nationwide that received Save Our History community preservation grants. These grants fund innovative preservation projects designed to bring communities together, actively engage children in the preservation of their local history and communicate the importance of saving local history for future generations.

HISTORY, with the counsel of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), created the Save Our History Grant Program as an extension of the Save Our History philanthropic initiative and is committed to inspiring and motivating local communities to learn about and take an active role in the preservation of their past through projects involving artifacts, oral histories, sites, museums or landmarks that exist in their own neighborhoods. In four years, nearly 2,000 historic organizations, representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia have applied for funding through the Save Our History Grant Program. To date, History and its cable partners have given over $1 million dollars to fund community preservation projects across the country.

In addition to this project, HISTORY is also awarding Save Our History grants to historic organizations in Alaska, Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.

“HISTORY receives stacks of applications for Save Our History grants,” said Dr. Libby O’Connell, SVP, Corporate Outreach and Chief Historian, HISTORY. “(Moton) demonstrated the creativity and commitment to preservation and education that we believe is fundamental to giving our past a bright future.”

Historic organizations interested in receiving funding for preservation projects developed with local schools or youth groups are encouraged to apply for a 2010/2011 Save Our History Grant. Applications will be available in January 2010, online at saveourhistory.com.

Helen R. Stiff-Williams, Moton’s educational consultant who wrote and submitted the application for the Save Our History grant, is working with the three-person committee and is responsible for implementing the project.

Besides preserving history, the lesson activities of the students collecting information will focus upon teaching relevant Virginia Standards of Learning curriculum. Participating students will be involved in experiential learning to demonstrate newly acquired research skills commonly taught within their social studies and English or language arts classes.  “Participating students will likely enjoy the learning experience as they search their local communities for family and friends who were impacted by the Closed Schools Era in Prince Edward County during 1959-64,” Stiff-Williams said..

In addition, the project will promote the importance of the historic Moton Museum and its approaching 60th Anniversary of the Student Strike for better schools in Prince Edward County, she said.

In the spring of 2011, the museum will commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Barbara Johns’ led student strike of 1951. The commemoration will be highlighted by the grand opening of the newly developed permanent exhibitions at the museum.

“The Save Our History project is of huge significance and supports the mission of the Moton Museum,” Stiff-Williams said. “This year-long project will increase the awareness of the Moton Museum and its historical significance to stakeholders throughout the 15 locality service region of the Museum.  Further, the collection of data from the project will yield products such as biographies, pictures, oral histories, video taped interviews and artifacts to expand the Museum’s historical collection.”

Wilson’s great-great grandfather knew Robert Russa Moton, the museum’s namesake and a leading African American educator in the early 20th, a relationship that lurks in his support for the museum and its efforts. “Education lost and won is a definite theme of the civil rights movement, and especially in Prince Edward County,” Wilson said. “To help capture part of the impact of the struggle for education is important work. It is right to develop a descriptive census of those who were affected by the closing of the schools, black and white. If today’s students can learn to do research, conduct interviews, and write up short technical reports of their findings in the process, then I consider it a double benefit: honoring the past and using it help the next generation prepare their skills for the future.

“I consider it to be an honor to be part of this project–to work with my fellow education colleagues, the museum and its staff, and with the project’s coordinator and grant award winner.”

The information and artifacts gathered by the students will be collected and presented in the museum.
The museum’s Save Our History project will train up to 20 area teachers to teach research strategies and help the students with their research.

Over 1,100 African American students were part of the Prince Edward’s public school population at the time of the school closing. Many of the students’ parents sought to have their children educated in neighboring school districts, including the counties of Charlotte, Cumberland, Buckingham, Amelia, Powhatan, Appomattox, Lunenburg, and Nottoway.

The mission of the Moton Museum is to preserve and positively interpret the history of Civil Rights in Education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the role its citizens played in America’s struggle to move to an integrated society. The Museum is an educational resource for the Commonwealth of Virginia, accessible to students, educators and the public at large.  The economic development potential of Civil Rights tourism has been well documented by the states of the Deep South.

The Moton Museum is located in the former R. R. Moton High School at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia.  Moton was the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout in protest of inferior educational facilities led by 16-year-old sophomore Barbara Johns. The Moton strike launched Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle for Civil Rights in Education and resulted in the filing of Davis v. Prince Edward, which called for an end to racial segregation in public education.  Davis was decided, along with four other cases, in the Supreme Court decisions Brown v. Board (1954) and Brown II (1955) in which the court ruled that school boards must act “with all deliberate speed” to desegregate.