March 5, 2009
After 46 years, Ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel recently returned to Prince Edward County, Virginia. In 1963, while serving as Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Ambassador vanden Heuvel worked to organize the Prince Edward Free Schools Association which ushered the end of racial segregation in public education in the County. Today, his successful efforts are considered a landmark of the Civil Rights Movement.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel visited the Robert Russa Moton Museum in route to participating in Hampden-Sydney College’s symposium, Closing Doors, Opening Doors: Fifty Years After the School-Closing in Prince Edward County.
“Our hope was that the Free Schools would be a bridge to a reconstructed community and that, most of all, these hundreds of innocent children would not forfeit the opportunities of their lives because they had been denied their constitutional right to go to school,” vanden Heuvel remarked during his address at the Hampden-Sydney symposium.
Ambassador vanden Heuvel later told museum director Lacy Ward that his speech to the Hampden-Sydney audience was an historical reflection on race relations in America. “This speech told the story of the Free Schools, which the Department of Justice helped organize under Attorney General Robert Kennedy – and in which I was privileged to have a role.”
Melinda vanden Heuvel accompanied her husband along with their daughter, Katrina.
August 15, 1963 Photo Courtsey of the Richmond Times Dispatch
Governor Albertis Harrison, Rev. L. F. Grinnin, U.S. Department of Justice Representative; William vanden Heuvel, and NAACP lawyer, Henry Marsh
Ambassador William vanden Heuvel exams a photograph display at the Moton Museum with his daughter, Katrina; his wife, Melinda vanden Heuvel; and Museum Director Lacy Ward Jr.