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Brown's Battleground

Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County, Virginia

Jill Ogline Titus

Publication Year: 2011

In 1959, Prince Edward County, Virginia, abolished its public school system in opposition to the landmark decision against school segregation, Brown v. Board of Education. It took five years and another Supreme Court decision for the county to reopen public school doors. Titus explores the background of the crisis, the period in which the schools were closed, and the repercussions of this educational tragedy. She focuses on the years between 1951 (when black students walked out of the decrepit Moton High School) and 1969 (when black students staged a second strike), but also carries the story up to the present to demonstrate the consequences of the county's years of massive resistance to desegregation. Titus show that the Prince Edward County story is a vital chapter of America's civil rights story. While there have been journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional stories about the educational crisis, there has been no scholarly treatment of the subject. In 1965 the Press published journalist Bob Smith's They Closed Their Schools: Prince Edward County, Virginia, 1951-1964. However, Titus has a wealth of new archival material to draw upon and takes a broader perspective.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xiii

As everyone knows, writing a book is hardly a solitary process. I am delighted to have an opportunity to acknowledge the many people who helped to make this project possible. My fascination with Prince Edward County began almost ten years ago, while I was an intern in the National Park Service’s Northeast Regional Office...

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Introduction: Moton High, 1951

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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...

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1 Seizing the Offensive

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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

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2 We Suffered Our Children to Be Destroyed

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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...

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3 Friends in the Struggle

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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...

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4 The Greatest Gift We Ever Shall Receive

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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...

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5 Digging Up Some Liberals

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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...

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6 The Long Hot Summer, 1963

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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...

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7 Washington, D.C., Meets Farmville

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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...

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8 The Law Has Spoken

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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...

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9 Standing Together

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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...

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10 Moton High, 1969

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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...

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11 Carrying On

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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...

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Conclusion: Victors or Victims?

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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...


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pp. 223-258


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pp. 259-270


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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781469602455
E-ISBN-10: 1469602458
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807835074
Print-ISBN-10: 0807835072

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011