A powerful memoir of the civil rights movement, specifically the dramatic struggle to integrate the schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
Little-remembered today is the story of the late-1950s closure of the Prince Edward public schools and the fate of its black children, who were either deprived of education or separated from their families and dispersed into other states. At a commemoration 50 years later, journalist Green and other participants were told how “the Prince Edward story is one of the most exciting pieces of American history, in part because the struggle of young people against discrimination resulted in a Supreme Court ruling.” That ruling was Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1964), which ordered the schools to integrate. Despite the ruling, however, another 22 years would pass before the county’s all-white academy was integrated. While local black students had contributed to Brown with their 1951 school strike, which they named their “Manhattan Project,” Green reminds us that their segregationist neighbors believed the integration would contribute to making “the people of America a mongrel nation.” Well before integration became an order, they were ready to padlock the schools and divert resources to their race-based replacement. In 2008, Green, a graduate of the whites-only academy, discovered that her grandfather had taken a lead role in the project from the beginning, in order “to maintain the purity of the white race” and avoid the raising of “half-black, half-white babies…nobody wants.” The author movingly chronicles her discovery of the truth about her background and her efforts to promote reconciliation and atonement. Her own experience in a racially mixed marriage provides a counterpoint.
A potent introduction to a nearly forgotten part of the civil rights movement and a personalized reminder of what it was truly about.