I listened to the school board meeting tonight. I hope I never have to endure doing that again. I hate watching school board meetings.
Last night, supporters of George Hampton were out in force. I don’t know Mr. Hampton. I have nothing against him. I had never heard of him before. He certainly has a lot of friends, even some who didn’t even know his name, but that’s ok.
I understand their dedication to someone they feel has made positive contributions to the community. However, some of the speakers continued to throw out ‘facts’ that simply were not true.
Several speakers talked about the state of Virginia closing the schools for 5 years. That did not happen. The schools in Prince Edward County (near Farmville) were closed for 5 years, but not by the state. Prince Edward County closed their own schools.
The locations that were closed by the state were Front Royal, Charlottesville, and Norfolk. Those schools reopened the same school year. Prince Edward County had a different situation. According to the Virginia Historical Society:
“After Virginia’s school-closing law was ruled unconstitutional in January 1959, the General Assembly repealed the compulsory school attendance law and made the operation of public schools a local option for the state’s counties and cities.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 Prince Edward County. Ordered on May 1, 1959, to integrate its schools, the county instead closed its entire public school system.
The 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.”
It’s important to give accurate facts, rather than sensationalized bits and pieces of history that simply are not correct, at least as long as there are people around to call out those inaccuracies.
I nearly cried last night when Chairman Ryan called out Mills Godwin as a “very bad person.” Why was I personalizing this debate so much? I never thought I would have to re-fight some of those segregation issues. I thought that desegregation was settled law and that we as a people had moved on. I never thought that some 50 years later I would feel like I was on some ‘hot-spot’ over things that had happened so long ago and through no fault of my own.
One of the reasons I came to Prince William County was because their schools had integrated without much fanfare at all. The schools of PWC were barely a blip on the radar thanks to some rather wonderful people like Mrs. Viola Johnson and Mrs. Zella Brown who I had the pleasure and honor of working with as a young teacher. They and others courageously were the trailblazers who went into white schools and made it all happen. There simply was no strife like I had come home to in Charlottesville.
I missed the schools closing in Charlottesville. My family had been in Atlanta in 1959. However, when we came home in the early 60’s after living away for nearly 5 years, much had changed. My old school, Venable, had been closed by the state for about 6 months because of Massive Resistance as had Lane High School, where my father had taught and coached.
I am not sure that I am ready to divulge how all of this personally impacted me, but it most certainly did–very much so. I was a kid and I didn’t care about the politics of the issue of integration. Basically, I didn’t care who I went to school with. Kids are kids. I wasn’t altruistic until many years later when I worked behind the scenes with Alanna and Elena over the immigration issue.
However, after last night and hearing that people like Mills Godwin were “bad people” I absolutely will not publicly share because there are people who have been in my life (pretty much most of the adults I knew as a child) who are not here to speak for themselves.
Ryan Sawyer was rude and insensitive. Rather than calling Mills Godwin out as a bad person, how about saying something like he had outdated ideas about equal education and racial equality and certainly didn’t reflect the values that we hold in Prince William County today? With that, I would agree. That he was a “bad person” I absolutely would not!
I can’t think that Godwin was bad, without thinking the adults in my life as a child were BAD, including my parents. I am not quite ready to brand them as BAD. In many ways, they reflected attitudes from another era. They were part of the Greatest Generation. However, when the time came, they also made the necessary changes regarding educational equality and both worked in schools that accommodated all races, quite successfully.
Transition is exactly that—transition. People with one set of values just don’t wake up one morning and poof! Their way of life and the values that they attach to that way of life don’t vaporize. There is a learning process that goes with change–going from old ways to new ways. I salute my parents for making those changes ,perhaps not overnight, but they made them. They moved from old thinking to new thinking.
As I watched the school board circus side-show on TV last night, I especially thought of my mother. It was the 10th anniversary of her death. I just didn’t need to hear that people like her were BAD people. Mr. Sawyer, you owe me a personal apology. I worked for Prince William County for decades. I turned off my TV last night feeling like I had wasted my entire adult life working for a county whose leadership was going to declare most of my childhood past, including my parents and adults who had shaped me into the person I am today as BAD.
This school board as made an enemy of me. Stupid thing to do when I buy ink by the barrel.
The PWC School Board bungled this entire situation because of knee jerk reactions, ineptitude, insensitivity and lack of knowledge.
The pups should not try to tell the old dogs how things were. I know how things were. I lived through much of it. I also know that I worked hours and hours to get Doug Wilder, the first African American governor elected. My husband clocked huge amounts of hours to elect President Obama. I threw that in just to point out that no, we aren’t residual “racists.”
Old dogs don’t recover from being slapped in the face. Last night, my entire family was. We aren’t BAD people. We are people who grew up in a different era where many of the values held today were not in place. That condition doesn’t make us BAD people.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for that apology.
More information about the Lost Class of ’59