VEA President challenges members to support Moton; Goal is to match $250,000 pledge

Kitty J. Boitnott

The President of the Virginia Education Association is challenging its members to make contributions to the Robert Russa Moton Museum. Kitty J. Boitnott encouraged members to make a minimum contribution of $19.63—a sum that is in honor of the group’s beginning its involvement with the Free Schools in 1963.

In January, the NEA announced the commitment of $250,000 to the museum. The commitment calls for the museum to receive $50,000 a year for five years. The first allocation was made with the letter of notification and will help with development of the permanent exhibit of Gallery VI, Bound for Freedom.

The exhibit, titled “Bound for Freedom: 1963-1964,” will depict the Prince Edward County Free Schools and the Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County decision reopening the county’s public schools.

“We cannot let this history get lost,” Boitnott told members in April when she announced the challenge. “Indeed, in the climate and culture that we are currently experiencing it is more important than ever that we remember our collective history and strive to continue to bring about equality and equity for every child in this Commonwealth … every single one.”

Prince Edward County’s Board of Supervisors closed the county’s public school system for five years from 1959 until 1964 rather than desegregate. In response, Free Schools were set up to help the displaced students receive an education.

Moton Director Lacy Ward Jr. praised the organization’s “longtime support” and noted that if 13,000 of the 60,000-member organization were to contribute the minimum amount it would provide the $250,000 match.

In 1963, Neil Sullivan was recruited from an affluent school district in New York to serve as Superintendent of Prince Edward’s Free Schools to help those displaced students continue the education process.

The NEA helped recruit teachers and supported the project with contributions from many of its chapters.

Sullivan wrote about his experience in his 1965 book “Bound for Freedom: An Educator’s Adventure’s in Prince Edward County, Virginia.” The book has since been republished as a fundraiser by the Moton museum.

The Robert Russa Moton Museum is located at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia. It is the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout, led by 16-year-old junior Barbara Johns, in protest of inferior educational facilities. 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 landmark 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.

The museum is establishing a permanent exhibit that will trace Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle to establish an integrated school system. The exhibition will be in place by April 23, 2011, the 60th anniversary of the student protest. It will offer the only place in the Commonwealth of Virginia where visitors can come to understand the processes by which citizens and their national, state, and local governments resolved the policy issues of segregation in public education. For more information visit the museum’s web site at http://motonmuseum.org <http://motonmuseum.org/> .