"It seemed like reaching for the moon." ~Barbara Johns
On April 23rd, 1951, 450 students walked out of Robert Moton High School, located in Prince Edward County, Virginia, to protest their sub-standard learning environment. Their classrooms were in deplorable conditions, as well as the handed down materials from which they were expected to learn. NAACP attorneys Oliver Hill, and Spottswood Robinson worked with the students, and filed a lawsuit, demanding equal education opportunities for Black students; the Davis vs. County School Board of Prince Edward County was attached to the Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, when it came before the supreme Court.
Initially, Prince Edward County worked to provide separate, but equal education opportunities for Black students, by building a new Robert Moton High School (which is now a museum www.motonmuseum.org). However, once Brown had passed the Virginia General Assembly decided to implement statewide "massive resistance," refusing to integrate its public schools. In 1959, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors decided they'd rather close all schools, than integrate them; so they voted to shut down their public schools - which deeply impacted the county's roughly 1700 Black children, and poor White children. Meanwhile, affluent White parents planned for the closing of the public schools, and established the Prince Edward Academy to educate their children; while 1700 Blacks and poor children went without a formal education from 1959 - 1964.
Imagine, summer is coming to an end, and you get your children up early in the morning, clean them up, feed them a good breakfast, and get them dressed in their school clothes to send them off to start the new school year...only for them to wait for the bus - which eventually passes them, because of their skin color. That's what happened to Mr. Ralph Smith's family, and several others, as a result of "massive resistance." Listen to our interview, and learn how his family was affected by the decision made by the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. Learn how they fought for his education, and how the community came together to meet the needs of the nearly 1500 students who were not fortunate to be sent away for formal schooling.
Below is a compilation of post recording video clips, where Mr. Smith goes into further detail about his experiences pursuing formal education, and participating in Freedom Summers; while talking to myself, and the Director of "Be A Singular Sensation," Ms. Elizabeth Lockard.
What do you believe was the long-term impact of massive resistance in Prince Edward?
Were you directly impacted by the closing of Prince Edwards Schools? If so, please share your story below, and leave your contact information with us. We'd like to follow up with you!
https://www.berea.edu/magazine/files/2014/11/74.4-2004-Spring.pdf Mr. Smith, is featured on page 13-17. He and others impacted by the closing of the schools, who eventually were provided a formal education at Berea College's Foundation School.