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Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle

The story of a Virginia community that defied the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. When ordered by a federal court to desegregate the public schools in 1959, white leaders instead chose to close them.

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The public schools would remain shut for five years, depriving hundreds of black children – and some white children – of an education. Students were sent to live with family, even strangers, in other states and counties so they could attend school. Some children worked in the tobacco fields to help support their families. Many would never again return to a classroom.

It was a story Kristen knew little about as a child. She spent an idyllic childhood in Farmville, swimming with her three brothers in her parents’ pool and being doted on by loving grandparents. All her neighbors, teachers, and classmates were white. She had virtually no contact with blacks in her community, other than her family’s longtime housekeeper, Elsie. She was completely unaware of the impact the school closures had had on black children, including Elsie’s daughter.

When Kristen decided to write about what had happened in her hometown, she used her journalistic skills to peel back the layers of the community’s complicated and shameful history. The result is the story of how a young, female student led a protest of the conditions at her black high school, resulting in a lawsuit that would ultimately be folded into Brown v. Board of Education. It is the story of a landmark Supreme Court case, and a white Board of Supervisors that voted to close schools rather than allow their children to attend class with black kids.

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