Skip to main content

tv   Book Discussion on Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County  CSPAN  August 13, 2016 1:00pm-1:31pm EDT

1:00 pm
roof prayed with them, read the bible with them, thought they were so nice, and shot them dead, leaving just one woman alive so she could tell the world what he had done and why. you have taken over our country, he said and he knew it to be true. not even a full month after dylan roof gun down tween 9 african-americans at emmanuel ame in charleston south carolina, republican presidential front-runner donald trump fired up his silent majority audience of thousands in july 2015 with a macabre promise. don't worry, we will take our country back. >> you can watch this and other
1:01 pm
programs online. . >> welcome to the gaithersburg book festival. welcome to the seventh annual book festival. tank you for coming, let's cross our fingers, i would like to say gaithersburg is a wonderful city, we are pleased to bring, generous supporters and sponsors and volunteers, say a hearty thank you. a few announcements, please silent all devices. if you are tweeting today use
1:02 pm
the hashtag dbf and we need your feedback, surveys are available on the website. i am pleased to introduce offer kristen green who will sign books after the presentation, in politics and prose, a great partner. a quick word about buying books. this is a free event, the more publishers are willing to send their authors to the book festival, politics and prose does benefit the local economy, supports the book festival. and please consider buying
1:03 pm
kristin's book. kristen green is an author who grew up in farmville, virginia. it is important to the story. she graduated from mary, washington in fredericksburg, a graduate of the harvard school of government, she is a journalist, worked at the richmond science dispatch, and lives in richmond, virginia. her work appears in atlantic and npr, have a husband jason and two daughters you are intimately familiar with when you read this book. something must be done about prince edward county, it is a civil rights nonfiction. the library of virginia. the library of virginia website,
1:04 pm
vote for kristen green and get this book voted for people's choice award. it is an interesting book for me not only because i am a lawyer who loves race relations topics. in law school, those who do not know gaithersburg, the most diverse city in america. you may not fully appreciate race relations were not always as they have been. kristin grew up in farmville, those who do not know this, in the wake of the seminal supreme court decision brown versus board of education which ruled segregation of schools was unconstitutional, prince edward county was the only county in the country to close its schools rather than desegregate their schools. this book is an interesting
1:05 pm
introspective where kristin looks at her own family's involvement with this troubling time in our nation's history. the book will go back and forth between the history which i love. it also talks about her own experience with that history and confronting that history. i encourage you to listen to kristin today, go to the politics and prose tents, consider purchasing this book. i went on amazon and purchased the book as well. i would like to bring kristin up to the stage. let's welcome her. [applause] >> thank you for that kind introduction and thank you for having me here today. glad so many of you came out, rain or shine. i am thrilled to share my story
1:06 pm
with you. the only community in the nation to close its schools rather than desegregate. it was a story i didn't know growing up. i only knew little bits and pieces well before i was born. i became a journalist and working on the west coast, developed an interest learning more about what happened. it took a long time to develop curiosity about what happened because this story was not talked about where i came from. it was pushed under the rug and the way the story with shared is oversimplified. i became a journalist and moved to the west coast and became a more curious person. i developed an interest in writing about people that newspapers don't do a great job
1:07 pm
writing about, people of color, immigrants, people who live in poverty, but working on that and moving to san diego where i became friends for the first time to people of color. i met my future husband, multiracial man and became more engaged in learning about this history and washington post magazine did an exhaustive piece about what happened and it was the first time someone who wasn't connected to me in prince edward was telling a full her story of what happened and reading it made me think i needed to learn the full story and maybe it would actually be a good book and that was about 10 years ago. so you can have an idea how long the project takes, let me go back to the beginning and
1:08 pm
explain what i learned. in 1951 a 16-year-old black girl walked out of her black high school in virginia to protest the conditions in that school and rules were segregated so there was a black high school and white school and she'd seen the white high school down the street and knew how much better the facilities were. she led a protest for fellow students to protest the conditions of that school. and the protest affected the attention of the naacp in richmond, virginia. and weren't interested in taking on her case but did agree to come to farmville and meet with students and parents there and after seeing how dedicated these parents and students were to their cause. they were willing to take on their case but it was on
1:09 pm
condition, that they would seek integration rather than other facilities was a year earlier in 1950 the naacp changed direction equal facilities would never be enough and desegregation in schools with public life. so students, a core committee of students who plan for month they walk out had to take a vote whether to agree to go along with the naacp was asking and according to students who were there the decision to go along with his only won by one vote. this case was one of 5 cases in brown versus board of education. i didn't realize until i started reporting this, prince edward was the only case of the 5 that was student led, produced 75% of
1:10 pm
complaint of the entire robert brown case. i think that casey merging from out of the county sets the stage for what happened many years later when schools were closed. white leaders were embarrassed this case was filed against him and they suggested they would build a black high school for the students that would replace icicle is requested of them for many years. only black students and their parents would stop -- by that point, they moved forward and white leaders went ahead to build this new high school in 1953 anyway, the brown decision was handed down a year earlier. the white leader's response to the brown decision had a lot to do with embarrassment and fear. they were afraid their community
1:11 pm
would be held up as an example to the rest of the nation and required to desegregate their schools as an example. senator harry byrd led a push back to brown versus board of education that came to be known as massive resistance. he believes communities should push back the requirement to desegregate schools and if virginia pushed back -- if the south refused to desegregate cools than the rest of the country would realize they were never going to get on board. i don't know if he hoped it would be overturned, not sure what his logic was but that was his thinking and a lot of people in southside, virginia, that supported that logic. in other communities in southern
1:12 pm
virginia they want groups called the defenders of state sovereignty and individual liberty and it suggested six month after the brown hearing, brown decision, closing schools is something they should do to avoid desegregation. and the local newspaper suggested 6 months since the decision to shaping public opinion, and if we have to we will close the schools. they put this idea out early after the brown decision. a court did not require them to desegregate schools, the brown decision was on the back of
1:13 pm
black families. even a follow-up decision didn't make clear how desegregation was supposed to happen on what timeline. black families were forced to go to court and ask schools and school districts, they were out ahead of the game, and forced to desegregate. and all the schools if they had to. and realizing they had taken that position so early and so much time to come up with better options, and protected so many children. i also realized my own grandfather had been one of
1:14 pm
those people who was a founding member and officer of defenders, and that changed a lot for me how i approached this book, my family was also at fault. it became much more personal. i met my future husband there. those children represented exactly what white leaders were trying to prevent. that was their biggest fear that they most wanted to avoid. when it became a personal book, they explored my grandfather's role, and looking deeper at what
1:15 pm
happened in my hometown. let's look where the court finally said prince edward county had to be desegregated in schools was white leaders had been prepared across the day. they didn't just mention it, they raised money for the 5-year period, should the need arise. they had people promising funds for that period of time. they went months 2 months financing model. they closed the schools any time, they would be ready to close schools. when the court finally did require in 1959 that they desegregate, they threatened to
1:16 pm
do, and voted not to fund the schools and by not funding schools they shut down all public education in prince edward county. in a moment that decision was made these people had been planning for years to start a white academy and did so by calling the white churches in town, the volunteer groups, civic organizations and asking if they could use the basement of their churches and rotary halls to hold classes for the white children. their plan was to have a school up and running come fall of 1959 so white children would have somewhere to go. black students did not have this opportunity. to start a private academy would have gone against what they are trying to accomplish. i also think nobody knew how
1:17 pm
long schools would be closed. even oliver hill couldn't believe white leaders would go through with this, would really close all public schools. they thought this was a threat. stores and been locked, in the summer of 1959 he was convinced schools would reopen. and families were worried that their kids would not graduate into head and made plans for their children particularly kids that were older, juniors and seniors in high school, everyone realized how important it was to get a diploma. if you think today how important a high school diploma is, to get a diploma really meant something so families worked so hard for that moment, they were trying to find ways their kids could graduate. some students live with family
1:18 pm
members, older sisters in the north in particular. lives at a college in north carolina, ame church related school educating high school students agreed to take in 60 students in prince edward county and the black churches started training centers in the basement of their churches were not considered schools or taught by official teachers but they were meant to engage young students so they can have involvement with schooling. parents of younger kids, training centers, the majority of black children did not go to school. they had no way of knowing
1:19 pm
schools would be closed as long as they were. children who were old enough, that extra income. tobacco farmers -- the extra income, when schools would reopen many years later. they have been working all those years, they wouldn't go back to school. this generation of children came to be known as the lost generation, so many of them were denied an education. on the other hand i want to point out there were many families who made huge sacrifices so their children would be educated. i wanted to write this book to tell the story of those children
1:20 pm
who were denied an education. and tell about their various stories, there were so many trajectories what their lives look like after schools were closed. one thing i never considered was the way families were torn apart. once the decision was made, because families wanted their children to be educated, the oldest children about to graduate, those children were sent to the ame church school in north carolina, the younger daughter entering high school in ninth grade live in a neighboring county, and on weekends come to her mom and dad. but was working a second or third job to provide the money these kids needed to be at grandma's house, and a ninth
1:21 pm
grader told me, this happy, joyful family, and lives in the heart of farmville. at the dinner table, and would never sleep under the same roof again. i came to find that echoed the indignity of slavery and never thought going into the project, to have your children ripped away from you so they could get an education. those stories of the children and what their lives look like were the most meaningful parts of reporting this book. a really good student was 9 years old and her dad promised her no matter what you begin
1:22 pm
education and she was going to see to that. she and her brother would walk 3 miles each way to one of those training centers. her neighborhood school had been a mile away, much further and students, the white students passed by in the bus and spit out the window, the church training center, did that for two years, and on and off she would ask her dad when are we going to go to a real school and he would keep reminding her you are going to go to a real school one day and i'm going to make sure. after two years with no movement towards reopening the school he decided he had enough. he worked at the railroad, had a project in an adjoining county and his wife helped him rent a house in appomattox county and it was a rundown house that was habitable. they set out to make that house appear habitable. he worked in the front yard
1:23 pm
cleaning it up, repaired broken windows, burgundy curtains to hang in the front window but it wasn't until the school year was about to begin that dorothy realized they were not going to move to the house, live in the. instead her dad was going to drop her off behind the house each morning and they were to stand behind the house until they heard the bus going down the county road and then and only then were we to go through the back door of the house, through the house, out the front door, through the front yard and up the steps and never to tell anyone they didn't live there because if they did their education would be at stake. that story gives me shivers every time i think about what she had to endure to get an education and what her parents
1:24 pm
were willing to sacrifice. years later that woman, dorothy holcomb became a school board member and worked her career at the state employment office. she had gone to school with kids, she knew her neighborhood would seek unemployment benefits looking for jobs and she would go to the other side of her desk to fill out the form because they were illiterate. this 5-year period, not only affected those kids and parents but generations of children in prince edward county because the illiteracy of those parents resulted in their children not being as literate as they would otherwise. i think about a myriad of other affects of not having an education. not only didn't get to achieve
1:25 pm
your dreams in life but the economic situation would have been different had they been able to go to college, they get better jobs, meant they could buy a house. the impact on that generation has been significant. i wanted to look at what public schools look like after they reopen and the effect on the town today. the academy that my grandfather and other white leaders helped to found when schools were closed, and enrolled my brothers and me, i was a student in 1986, finally admitted black students, the only reason it did so was in
1:26 pm
order to have 5013c, nonprofit status restored to be taken away for discrimination. when i was interviewing the head master, the whole time i was a student there, when you integrated prince edward county he said -- we admitted black students. that told me what the thinking had been, about race relations in that town and where the academy stood in relationship to public schools. i found in my research my belief is the town would be better off if there were only the public school system because such a small community in rural virginia is unable to support two school systems and without the support of white families who for generations have supported the private schools
1:27 pm
the public schools are not able to prosper in the way they need to. many public leaders view the schools as black schools and continue to support it as such. i find the school system is underfunded and inadequately supported by the whole community. i want to wrap up so i can take a few questions. we have a few minutes left. if anyone has a question i'm glad to take it. what got the public schools reopen is the question of the front. it required another supreme court decision to reopen the schools in 1964. a lot of people hoped the administration could do something to reopen them sooner but they had just as much trouble doing that as leaders did in building support in prince edward.
1:28 pm
it required another supreme court decision, another five years. >> since you lived there -- what do you think there was about the mindset in farmville that set them apart from the rest of the south where they said we will not comply, we will close? >> i don't know if it was the mindset that set them apart from the rest of the south. the only thing that makes sense is they were embarrassed about being part of the supreme court decision, being one of those 5 cases and i think that made them want to push back and senator byrd had huge authority in that
1:29 pm
town and was meeting behind the scenes with prominent leaders. may have used himself as a test case. they may have thought if we can do this then other communities can do this and there is evidence to support parts of that, white leaders who created the academy i attended included a booklet explaining how to do this and they suggested to atlanta and new orleans those communities were capable of doing what prince edward county had done and they were tracking around the country like espousing these views that if you want to shut down your schools here is how you do it. i don't know that they had a particular viewpoint different from the rest of the south. they had more will to do it because of back history. i can take one more question if anyone has one.
1:30 pm
>> how difficult was it to find the student and what interviews? >> i have been a reporter for 20 years. i have never covered a story that was so rich with people to interview. i never stopped interviewing people, i give a plug for the school those students walked out of to protest and an amazing civil rights museum if you are ever in virginia, i encourage you to go to that museum. encourage you to go to the museum. they're a great partner in that community to help heal the rift between blacks and whites there is. blacks can come in and tell their stories of what happened to them, whites can tell their stories and learn about the history that they were never taught. and when i was live anything prince edward reporting the book for one summer, i went to every event there for, you know, over the summer and went to weekly events there for a couple of years. and there are so many students


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on