|Date(s):||January 6, 1964|
|Location(s):||Prince Edward County, Virginia|
|Tag(s):||Education, integration, Civil Rights Movement|
|Course:||“US Since 1945,” Juniata College|
On January 6, 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia must integrate. This decision came in the case Griffin V. School Board of Prince Edward County where Reverend L. Francis Griffin sued the school board for closing all public schools in the area so they would not have to integrate. Instead, white students attended private school or school in another county while black students did not get to go to school at all from 1959 until 1964 effecting approximately 3,300 students.
Most southern county governments opposed integration, but none like Prince Edward County. When the Brown V. Board of Education (1954) decision was handed down, Virginia state and local officials declared a “massive resistance” to the law. Prince Edward County decided to defund public schools, causing them to close in order to forestay integration. In 1961 plaintiffs challenged this closing in Allen v. County School Board of Prince Edward where it was argued that the closing of Prince Edward County public schools was a form of racial discrimination. The court ruled in favor of Allen citing it is a form of discrimination and the county was expected to reopen schools to all pupils regardless of race. However, Prince Edward County kept the schools closed for two more years in spite of this ruling leaving many black students without any formal education. In the publication “Their Voices, Our History: Stories of Prince Edward County Virginia”; Everett Berryman, Jr. who was twelve at the time public schools closed, explained that he attended a grassroots training center run by his mother instead of public school. He did not know that he was missing out on anything until his cousin from Baltimore proved much more proficient in reading and math than Everett. To get a good education, Everett was forced to move in with a family friend so that he could attend school in nearby Appomattox County.
In 1963, the NAACP and other civil rights groups created privately- funded free schools open to all students on an integrated basis. In March of 1964, lawyers argued Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County in the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor of Griffin in a six-to-two decision. The majority opinion, written by Justice Hugo Black, asserted that the School Board of Prince Edward Counted had violated the Fourteenth Amendment by denying equal protection or opportunity. They also held the school board in contempt of the Brown v. Board of Education (1955), which ordered it was “ necessary and proper to admit (complainants) to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed.” The court also asserted that even though local government control led public education, they could not close public schools because citizens have a right to free accessible education.
In 1964, an estimated 1,500 students returned to public schools in Prince Edward County. This event marked the end of massive resistance in Virginia.