A 23-member national commission will visit Prince Edward County on Friday, January 16, as an early part of the nation’s observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and Prince Edward’s role in that case.
The Brown decision, issued on May 17, 1954, ruled that racial segregation in public schools is inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional. That unanimous decision is generally considered the most significant Supreme Court ruling of the twentieth century. The government representatives are coming to Prince Edward because one of the five cases headed by Brown was filed here.
The Prince Edward suit, Davis v. Prince Edward, was filed in May of 1951, as a direct result of the historic strike by students at the woefully overcrowded, all-black Robert R. Moton High School. The school, built in 1939 and designed to house 180 students, held more than 450 at the time of the strike. The Brown decision in fact dealt with five cases: the lead suit, from Topeka, Kansas; Davis, from Virginia; plus cases from Clarendon County, South Carolina; Wilmington, Delaware; and Washington, D. C. Of the five, only the Prince Edward case began with direct action by students.
The Brown v. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission, which was created by an act of Congress, includes representatives of the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the Supreme Court; of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the legal arm of which brought all five Brown cases; and of each of the five states represented in those cases, as well as Massachusetts, where the first legal challenge to racially segregated schools was decided in 1849. The Commission is charged by Congress with “encouraging and providing for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of” the landmark Brown decision.
Chosen by President Bush to represent Virginia on the Commission are Dr. Benjamin W. Robertson, Sr., pastor of the Cedar Street Baptist Church in Richmond, and Lacy B. Ward, Jr., currently a vice-president of Tuskegee University in Alabama but formerly of Farmville. The Commission is co-chaired by two representatives of the President’s cabinet: Alex Acosta, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and Gerald Reynolds, Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. Other well-known members include Roger L. Gregory, a member of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Cheryl Brown Henderson, for whose father the Brown suit was named, H. Patrick Swygert, president of Howard University, and Roger Wilkins, professor of history at George Mason University.
As part of the lead-up to May 17, 2004, the Commission has already visited the sites of the Washington, South Carolina, and Delaware cases, and will visit Topeka, Kansas, site of the lead case, in March. The visit to Virginia will begin on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 15, in Richmond. Commission members will meet, among others, with members of the General Assembly, Governor Warner, and Oliver L. Hill, one of the NAACP attorneys who filed the Prince Edward case. They will also hold discussions with state Senator Henry L. Marsh III, chair of Virginia’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Commission. It has been charged by the General Assembly with coordinating state-wide commemorations of the fiftieth anniversary of Brown.
Then, on Friday morning, January 16, the Commission, accompanied by Sen. Marsh, will come to Farmville, where members will spend a very full day visiting sites associated with the struggle to desegregate the public schools here. These include the Robert R. Moton Museum, Prince Edward County High School (built in 1953 as the second Moton High School), the county court house, the Fuqua School (descended from Prince Edward Academy), and First Baptist Church, the central meeting place for the local Civil Rights Movement. Three sessions during the Commission’s visit will be open to the public: one at First Baptist from 4:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon; a roundtable discussion featuring plaintiffs in the *Davis v. Prince Edward* suit at 5:00 at the Museum; and a reception, also at the Museum, honoring the plaintiffs in Davis v. Prince Edward, from 6:30 to 8:00 in the evening.
Additional information about the Brown v. Board 50th Anniversary Commission can be found on the web at: http://www.ed.gov/brownvboard50th.
Events on January 16 sponsored by Wachovia.