Segregation survives in county that fought school integration


FARMVILLE, Va. -- Prince Edward County's whites say J. Barrye Wall Sr., 84, is a Southern gentleman, but blacks remember him as a segregationist so ornery he once led a fight that denied schooling to their children.

'I just don't discuss it anymore,' the white-thatched former editor and publisher of the Farmville Herald said of the county's two-decade struggle over school integration.


Wall, portly and pink-faced, still goes to his office every day. He discusses the old fight reluctantly, saying the national press treated him unfairly in its coverage of one of the landmark battles in the nation's civil rights struggle.

'The Supreme Court has been off base,' Wall said, ever since it declared in 1954 that school segregation was unconstitutional.

It has been almost a quarter of a century since Prince Edward County's white elected officials, editorially prodded by Wall, set up all-white schools and closed the public ones for five years in an ultimately futile attempt to keep out black children.


Wall said he still believes in segregation, and that integration leads to intermarriage.

'If you mix blood, you can't unmix it,' said Wall, whose grandfather fought in the Confederate Army which was surrendered in 1865 by Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, just 25 miles west of Farmville.

Although the county's public schools were reopened in 1964 by a Supreme Court order, many local whites still cling to school segregation. Most white students attend the private, all-white Prince Edward Academy, established to thwart integration. All of the black students are in public schools, which are about 28 percent white.

Wall, one of the founders of the private school, predicted, 'The academy will be around for a long time.'

Willie 'Bill' Towns, the black principal at integrated Prince Edward High School, does not doubt that, but he insists his public facility also is doing well.

'We're making tremendous progress,' he said. 'Generally, people in this community are committed to working together.'

Towns said two of the eight members of the county school board are black.

'I couldn't ask for a finer board,' said Towns, who added that his students' test scores are improving.

'This county's public schools are comparable to surrounding systems,' the principal said.


Towns said his high school is not afflicted with racial tensions.

'We had a white homecoming queen in 1979,' he said. 'That tells you our students did not vote along racial lines.'

Towns said school clubs sponsor dances that are integrated but he knew of no instances of interacial dating.

'Every year we get more students from the academy,' said Towns, who added that some teachers have left the private school for public teaching jobs that pay more.

The public high school, where 70 percent of the students participate in the federally-funded free lunch program, gets stronger each year, Towns said.

Administrator Robert Redd at the academy, on a hill overlooking Farmville, denied that his school -- where tuition is $1,375 a year -- had been severely crippled by the recession.

'I think we're doing real well,' said Redd, who also denied the academy is segreagted. 'No private schools in the United States can be segregated.'

He said no blacks had applied for admission to the academy.

'But we have some students of Spanish descent,' he said. 'We have some who are Jewish and some South Koreans. Our students come here because of the quality of our education program. We have a controlled environment. We have morning patriotic-devotional exercises in every class.'


Redd said public schools 'are a very necessary part of society' but parents who send children to private ones are entitled to tuition tax credfits or some other form of government relief.

'They're paying tuition here and also sharing the burden of supporting the public schools,' he said. 'They should get some kind of a break.'

T. Sam Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church where blacks once rallied to oppose school segregation, said the dispute had never been violent.

'Prince Edward County remains a tightly-knit, racially segregated community but there still is no violence,' he said.

Williams, as a pupil in the black high school in the county in 1951, was a leader in the student strike that led to the historic confrontation.

'Whites get the best jobs,' Williams said. 'Blacks get the menial ones. In the offices in town there's nobody but white people.'

James E. Ghee, a black who was able to leave town to continue his education when the county shut down the public schools, returned to practice law on Main Street.

Ghee, who has served on the school board, was asked who won in the county's long struggle over school integration.

'What's winning and what's losing?' he said. 'It was a victory for public education but we still have school segregation.'


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