Virginia

After Brown v. Board of Education, a Virginia school district chose to close for 5 years rather than integrate

NBC Universal, Inc. News4’s Dominique Moody reports on the 70th anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education and the lasting impact of the decision and resistance to it.

Friday marked the 70th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in American public schools, declaring it unconstitutional.

At the time some school districts began to integrate, but Prince Edward County, Virginia, resisted.

“The leaders in Farmville decided that they were not going to integrate and didn’t appropriate any funds and closed the schools,” Phyllistine Mosely recalled.

She had just finished her sophomore year at Robert R. Moton High School before officials shuttered schools, forcing her and other students to leave the county or state or stop going to school completely.

“The whole experience of having to leave the state of Virginia to get our education was the biggest bother to me,” Mosely said. “You know, it took something away from us, and we didn’t want it.” 

Prince Edward County Schools were closed from 1959 to 1964.

“Brown only dealt with the laws; Brown couldn’t deal with the conduct,” Howard University School of Law interim Dean Lisa Crooms-Robinson said. “And if you engage in the conduct and you’re savvy enough not to say you were doing this based on race, the conduct remains constitutional.”

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She said a similar court case in the District – Bolling v. Sharpe – tried to integrate schools in D.C.

“It starts because the middle school that Black students could go to was so overcrowded that they were running double shifts,” Crooms-Robinson said. “The plaintiffs in Bolling are seeking access to — and this will seem strange, perhaps, to current D.C residents — they’re trying to get into Sousa Middle School.”

In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled school segregation in the District also was unconstitutional.

Even with the landmark rulings, legal experts say communities need to work together to ensure there is a future in public education.

“It is a time for kind of sober reflection and look to do more grassroots organizing in communities, figuring out how best to support their empowerment, so that then they can advocate on their own behalf,” Crooms-Robinson said.

On Sunday, Longwood University in Farmville will provide honorary degrees to recognize local students whose educations were interrupted from 1959 to 1964 and students who were denied admission to Longwood on the basis of race.

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