Book review by Jim McCarthy
Sub-titled A Family, a Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Battle, this sometimes first-hand account of the massive resistance that gripped Virginia chronicles the author’s recall of her experience in the 1950s and ‘60s in Prince Edward County’s schools. Green acknowledges that the book is a “hybrid of history and memoir” informed, in part, by her return home to Farmville in 2006 to interview a number of resident survivors of the conflict.
Green, now a seasoned journalist, attended an all-white school in Farmville created at the time as the entire public school system of the county was shuttered in refusal to submit to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. She had relocated to Richmond and made the trip to Farmville because she “needed to know why white county leaders had believed so adamantly that black and white children shouldn’t go to school together.”
Her homecoming journey and inquiry are, at times, painfully recalled through the words and recollections of two generations of family members, family friends, acquaintances, and individuals whom she knew in her youth and early adulthood, including a tense marriage and wedding celebration in Farmville to a non-white man.
In an interesting historical footnote, in 1951, the NAACP filed a desegregation lawsuit [Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County] that was ultimately combined with a number of other claims to become the Brown case. Green deftly summarizes the major court cases of the period that prefaced the Brown decision, which prompted Virginia’s massive resistance.
Green’s odyssey is, as she promised, a personal one and, for this reason at times, it tends to detract from the very difficult issues it seeks to examine. On balance, the premise of the title is not met whether “something was done” about Prince Edward County. Perhaps this absence is due to the fact that the story line is actually that of a number of the residents of and her family in Farmville rather than the author’s first-hand experience. As she acknowledges, her educational experience was gained in an all white school.
In a closing chapter entitled “The New Normal,” Green romanticizes her own view that contemporary race relations are changing for the better despite deep racial divides in Prince Edward. Nonetheless, in 2008, the county’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution of regret for the harm caused by the closing of the schools. The author expresses some regret at the continued existence of all-white private schools opened in response to anti-integration forces, and notes that “white Farmville’s repentance is conditional.” Something must still be done. Despite these shortcomings, this is a valuable excursion into Virginia’s history of school integration.