Interest in Kennedy Administration’s role

FARMVILLE, VA.    A Lynchburg teacher works with the Robert Russa Moton Museum to clarify the role of the Kennedys in the Civil Rights Movement.

Brian Lee’s interest in the Kennedy Administration’s role in Prince Edward County’s history grew from curiosity to a 230-page thesis he hopes to see published as a book.

A Lynchburg, Va., public school teacher, Lee’s interest started as an independent research project as a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University and has made him a valuable resource for Moton museum. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library awarded Lee a research grant in 2008 while he was in graduate school.

In November, Moton Museum Director Lacy Ward Jr. asked Lee to work on the advisory council for the permanent exhibit.

Lee ended up writing a chapter titled “We Will Move: The Kennedy Administration and Restoring Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia” for the book The Educational Lockout of African Americans in Prince Edward County, Virginia (1959-1964): Personal Accounts and Reflections.

Lee said some people claim that the Kennedy’s were indifferent to the black community and took no interest in the civil rights movement until 1963, were slow to take action because of fear of riling southern Congressmen, were reactive instead of proactive and appointed racist southern judges.

“If you look at all four of those things, none of them apply to the Kennedys’ actions in Prince Edward County,” Lee said.

Instead, Lee said, the Kennedy Administration attempted to intervene in the Prince Edward case in April 1961, and, thereby, challenged the Byrd Machine’s core support.

President Kennedy also appointed four federal judges to the lower courts that presided over Virginia that attacked massive resistance, even years after Kennedy’s death.

Also, Robert Kennedy’s later push for Free Schools to provide an education for those left out of school from 1959 until 1964 when Prince Edward County closed its schools rather than desegregate was “absolutely unprecedented.”

The Robert Russa Moton Museum is located at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia. It is the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout, led by 16-year-old sophomore Barbara Johns, in protest of inferior educational facilities. 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 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.

The museum is establishing a permanent exhibit that will trace Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle to establish an integrated school system. The exhibition will be in place by April 23, 2011, the 60th anniversary of the student protest. It will offer the only place in the Commonwealth where visitors can come to understand the processes by which citizens and their national, state, and local governments resolved the policy issues of segregation in public education. For more information visit the museum’s web site at <> .


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