July 22, 2009
In 1963, 23% of Black children in Prince Edward County could no longer read nor write due to the 1959 closing of public schools. In the summer of 1963, student volunteers from Queens College in New York came to Prince Edward County to tutor these adversely affected students. According to Time magazine, as many as 500 local students benefited from the tutoring.
Many of the Queens College volunteers will return to the County October 1-4, 2009, to be honored at a reunion organized by the Robert Russa Moton Museum, in conjunction with the group Our Schools, Our Vision: A Shared Commitment (group made up of representatives from Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, Prince Edward County Public Schools, and Fuqua School).
The tutoring took place in a number of local churches, including Beulah A.M.E. Church, First Baptist Church, Levi Baptist Church, First Rock Baptist and Mercy Seat Baptist Church. Current ministers and members of these churches are working with the Moton Museum to organize the October reunion.
Former Mississippi Governor William F. Winter will deliver the keynote address for the reunion at a banquet on Saturday evening, October 3. He was a member of President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Board on Race in 1997-1998. The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi is named in his honor. In March 2008, Gov. Winter was a recipient of a Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum for his work advancing education and racial reconciliation.
The reunion will culminate with a service at Levi Baptist Church in Green Bay, Va., on Sunday, October 4, at 11:00 a.m. This service is open to everyone in the community.
Organizers of this event are eager to include all those whose lives were enriched by this dedicated group of volunteers. Those who were tutored, others who had contact with the Queens students in 1963, and local residents who have any information about family members or friends who were involved, are encouraged to contact the Moton Museum at 434-315-8775.
The contributions of the Queens students and other volunteers in Prince Edward County in the summer of 1963 have gone largely unrecognized. However, on August 9, 1963, Time magazine reported on the increasing rate of illiteracy among young Blacks as a result of the public schools’ closing. The article included details about 40 tutors who had come into the County, including “16 Queens College students, all but one white, who practiced tutoring all winter and raised $7,200 to pay their way . . . .”
The mission of the Moton Museum is to preserve and positively interpret the history of Civil Rights in Education, specifically as it relates to Prince Edward County and the role its citizens played in America’s struggle to move to an integrated society. The Museum is an educational resource for the Commonwealth of Virginia, accessible to students, educators and the public at large. The economic development potential of Civil Rights tourism has been well documented by the states of the Deep South.
The Moton Museum is located in the former R. R. Moton High School at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia. Moton was the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout in protest of inferior educational facilities led by 16-year-old sophomore Barbara Johns. The Moton strike launched Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle for Civil Rights in Education and resulted in the filing of Davis v. Prince Edward, which called for an end to racial segregation in public education. Davis was decided, along with four other cases, in the Supreme Court decisions Brown v. Board (1954) and Brown II (1955) in which the court ruled that school boards must act “with all deliberate speed” to desegregate.