The Closing of Prince Edward County's Schools | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
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The Closing of Prince Edward County's Schools

After Virginia's school-closing law was ruled unconstitutional in January 1959, the General Assembly repealed the compulsory school attendance law and made the operation of public schools a local option for the state's counties and cities. Schools that had been closed in Front Royal, Norfolk, and Charlottesville reopened because citizens there preferred integrated schools to none at all. It was not so in Prince Edward County. Ordered on May 1, 1959, to integrate its schools, the county instead closed its entire public school system.

Governor J. Lindsay Almond addressing the General AssemblyThe Prince Edward Foundation created a series of private schools to educate the county's white children. These schools were supported by tuition grants from the state and tax credits from the county. Prince Edward Academy became the prototype for all-white private schools formed to protest school integration.

No provision was made for educating the county's black children. Some got schooling with relatives in nearby communities or at makeshift schools in church basements. Others were educated out of state by groups such as the Society of Friends. In 1963–64, the Prince Edward Free School picked up some of the slack. But some pupils missed part or all of their education for five years.

Edward R. Murrow, the famous radio and television journalist, presented the program "The Lost Class of '59" on the CBS television network. It caused national indignation. Nonetheless, not until 1964, when the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed Virginia's tuition grants to private education, did Prince Edward County reopen its schools, on an integrated basis. This event marked the real end of Massive Resistance.

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Governor J. Lindsay Almond addressing the General Assembly
On January 19, 1959—coincidentally Robert E. Lee's birthday— rulings by the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and a three-judge federal district court panel invalidated Virginia's laws mandating the closing of public schools faced with mandatory desegregation. The state court based its decision on the Virginia Constitution's stipulation that the state operate public schools. The federal court based its ruling on the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In an address to the General Assembly nine days later, Governor J. Lindsay Almond, while sounding defiant, capitulated and asked the legislature to repeal the Massive Resistance legislation. (VHS call number: Mss1 AL685 a FA2)
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Oliver Hill, Roy Wilkins, and Reverend Francis L. Griffin
On May 21, 1961, civil rights leaders Oliver Hill, Roy Wilkins, and Reverend Francis L. Griffin attended a gathering in Farmville sponsored by the NAACP to discuss the closing of Prince Edward County's schools. The closing of the schools from 1959 to 1964, in defiance of integration, became a focus of national attention with TV journalist Edward R. Murrow's program "The Lost Class of '59." (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
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Frank D. Reeves, Henry L. Marsh III, and Samuel W. Tucker
Shown here on June 18, 1964, NAACP lawyers (left to right) Frank D. Reeves, Henry L. Marsh III, and Samuel W. Tucker were actively involved in the litigation to force the reopening of the Prince Edward County school system on an integrated basis. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Governor J.
Oliver Hill, Roy Wilkins, and Reverend Fra
Frank D. Reeves, Henry L.
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