Brown's Battleground

Brown's Battleground: Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County, Virginia

JILL OGLINE TITUS
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807869369_titus
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  • Book Info
    Brown's Battleground
    Book Description:

    When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision inBrown v. Board of Educationin 1954, Prince Edward County, Virginia, home to one of the five cases combined by the Court underBrown, abolished its public school system rather than integrate.Jill Titus situates the crisis in Prince Edward County within the seismic changes brought byBrownand Virginia's decision to resist desegregation. While school districts across the South temporarily closed a building here or there to block a specific desegregation order, only in Prince Edward did local authorities abandon public education entirely--and with every intention of permanence. When the public schools finally reopened after five years of struggle--under direct order of the Supreme Court--county authorities employed every weapon in their arsenal to ensure that the newly reopened system remained segregated, impoverished, and academically substandard. Intertwining educational and children's history with the history of the black freedom struggle, Titus draws on little-known archival sources and new interviews to reveal the ways that ordinary people, black and white, battled, and continue to battle, over the role of public education in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0245-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION: MOTON HIGH, 1951
    (pp. 1-10)

    The fiddler came to Farmville in 1951, demanding payment for generations of neglect. The largest community in rural Prince Edward County, located at the northern tip of Virginia’s Black Belt, Farmville was a segregated town. Privileged white men controlled the banks, the businesses, and the schools, as their fathers had before them. Raised in a world defined by the principle of separate and unequal, they reserved the best jobs and schools for whites, congratulating themselves for their generosity in laying aside the leftovers for blacks. Jim Crow set the parameters of life in Prince Edward County, and until 1951 it...

  5. CHAPTER 1 SEIZING THE OFFENSIVE
    (pp. 11-37)

    Reflecting on the racial code that defined his Virginia childhood, Rev. Leslie Francis Griffin, Prince Edward County’s “fighting preacher,” reminisced that “things were fine so long as we stayed in our place.” Virginia’s interpretation of Jim Crow was stifling to black aspirations but nonetheless distinct from the racial code that governed life in the Deep South. The Old Dominion, after all, had been the aristocratic capital of the Old South. White elites wholeheartedly supported segregation and disfranchisement but shunned vigilante violence as a threat to social stability. As esteemed political scientist V. O. Key wrote in 1949, “Politics in Virginia...

  6. CHAPTER 2 WE SUFFERED OUR CHILDREN TO BE DESTROYED
    (pp. 38-55)

    While the white community expressed its solidarity through building the Foundation schools, Prince Edward blacks threw themselves into organizing the Prince Edward County Christian Association (PECCA), fighting the closings through legal channels and setting up programs to minimize the damage done to the children. Observers and residents alike agreed that PECCA enjoyed strong mass support and that the majority of local blacks supported the NAACP campaign. Charles Herndon, who was four years old when the schools closed, later concluded that roughly 75 percent of the black community desired integration, an attitude he ascribed primarily to the widespread influence of Martin...

  7. CHAPTER 3 FRIENDS IN THE STRUGGLE
    (pp. 56-66)

    The involvement of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in the Prince Edward struggle entered a new phase in October 1960, when Helen Baker arrived in Farmville. Baker, a black human relations worker who served as director of literacy programs at the Southern School for Workers before joining the AFSC in 1950, remained in the county until August 1961, at which time Harry Boyte took over the Farmville office. Baker, in Jean Fairfax’s words, was “a real community organizer” who was deeply committed to “helping people in a community . . . move from crisis to healing and renewal.” As...

  8. CHAPTER 4 THE GREATEST GIFT WE EVER SHALL RECEIVE
    (pp. 67-94)

    In July 1963, Moses Scott wrote an open letter to the people of Newton, Massachusetts. A recent graduate of Newton High School, Scott could not close the door on this chapter of his life without telling town residents how deeply his experience in their community had touched him. “To be able to attend school is usually taken for granted,” he wrote. “However, we, the young students from Prince Edward attending school here consider the opportunity to receive an education in a good school system the greatest gift that we have ever received or ever shall receive.”¹

    Moses Scott was a...

  9. CHAPTER 5 DIGGING UP SOME LIBERALS
    (pp. 95-120)

    As darkness fell on June 3, 1960, a group of white residents committed to the eventual reopening of the Prince Edward public schools emerged from a semisecret meeting at former school board chairman Maurice Large’s cabin. They found a “patrol force” of PESF board members waiting outside to identify them. A car parked on a nearby public road trained its headlights upon all the vehicles exiting from Large’s driveway, and attendee Lester Andrews spotted one of his friends writing down names. A story circulated that C. W. “Rat” Glenn, one of the most feared men in the county, had forced...

  10. CHAPTER 6 THE LONG HOT SUMMER, 1963
    (pp. 121-132)

    On July 9, 1963, a reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch informed his readers that black protesters had attempted two sit-ins in Farmville. Obviously shocked by these developments, he termed the events at the College Shoppe restaurant and the State Theater “the first reported Negro movement in this Southside Virginia locality, which has gained prominence in recent years as the focal point of a struggle over the closings of Prince Edward County’s schools.”¹ In this writer’s mind, and perhaps many of his readers’ as well, social movements were synonymous with street protest. But the two are not one and the same....

  11. CHAPTER 7 WASHINGTON, D.C., MEETS FARMVILLE
    (pp. 133-159)

    In a March 1963 speech at Kentucky’s centennial observance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy called attention to the situation in Prince Edward. “We may observe with much sadness and irony that, outside of Africa, south of the Sahara, where education is still a difficult challenge, the only places on earth known not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras—and Prince Edward County, Virginia,” Kennedy lamented.¹ The attorney general’s hard-won recognition of the gravity of the situation was one of the few public federal acknowledgments of the constitutional crisis...

  12. CHAPTER 8 THE LAW HAS SPOKEN
    (pp. 160-176)

    Ten years and one week after the Supreme Court first ruled on school desegregation in Prince Edward County, its decision in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County invalidated school closings as an avenue for circumventing Brown v. Board of Education. Accepting the plaintiffs’ argument that allowing Prince Edward County to avoid desegregation would spark a rash of school closings across the South, the Court identified the closings as racially motivated and therefore unconstitutional. Writing for the Court in its May 25, 1964 decision, Justice Hugo Black stated unequivocally, “There has been entirely too much deliberation and not...

  13. CHAPTER 9 STANDING TOGETHER
    (pp. 177-192)

    The desperate conditions in the schools proved what many had suspected all along, that a court decision alone would not turn the tide in Prince Edward County. S. W. Tucker and Henry Marsh continued to play an important role in the struggle after 1964, working to dismantle the tuition grant program that shielded the majority of white parents from the consequences of starving the public school budget. But their efforts focused on the big picture: destroying the legal basis for segregation across the state. Local activists pursued a different, though complementary, goal: changing the patterns that governed interracial interaction in...

  14. CHAPTER 10 MOTON HIGH, 1969
    (pp. 193-203)

    On April 23, 1969, exactly eighteen years after the walkout that plunged Prince Edward County into the maelstrom of the nationwide battle over school desegregation, the nearly all-black student body at Moton High School staged another strike. Like their older brothers and sisters in 1951, they were attempting to break a hostile standoff with the school board. Although the immediate factors precipitating the 1969 strike were the firing of a popular young teacher and the dismissal of a school board advisory committee, the strike was, at its heart, a blow against the reinstated status quo. Having lost too much already,...

  15. CHAPTER 11 CARRYING ON
    (pp. 204-217)

    By the early 1990s, many members of the “crippled generation” worried that the school closings had become merely a footnote in southern history, considered to have no lasting significance beyond their ubiquitous effects within the community. Across the county, parents found themselves unable to help their children with their homework or teach them to love school. Illiterate adults shopped for groceries by looking at pictures on cans. Minimum wage workers scraped by without a high school diploma and worried that their children would follow in their footsteps. Vera Allen noted a pervasive inability to trust among many members of this...

  16. CONCLUSION: VICTORS OR VICTIMS?
    (pp. 218-222)

    Conducting interviews in 1992 for an unfinished documentary, filmmakers Laurie and Ken Hoen asked those affected by the school closings whether they considered themselves victors in the overthrow of Jim Crow education or victims of a massive conspiracy to preserve racial inequality. They received diverse responses, even from members of the same family. Elderly businessman Reginald White Sr. took pride in his family’s long involvement with the crisis. Noting that if Prince Edward blacks had not challenged the supervisors’ actions, school closings could have become endemic across the South, he termed the crisis a victory and hypothesized that his children...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 223-258)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 259-270)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 271-279)