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Desegregation of Virginia Education:Stories



These are stories sent through DOVE's "Tell Us Your Story" form. If you want to tell your story, use the Tell Us Your Story form. For many more stories, visit the DOVE Digital Collection.

Thomas Tutwiler

Posted: August 7, 2020

Name: Thomas Tutwiler

City: Weyers Cave

State: VA

School Years: Grew up in New Market/Shenandoah County, Virginia. Attended New Market ELementary School from 1960-67 and Stonewall Jackson High School from 1967-72.

Story: In May of 1963 my parents bought a house in New Market, VA and we moved from a house we had rented on the Shenandoah/Rockingham County line between New Market and Timberville. On the back end of the lot our new house sat on was a small house with an African-American family. They had two sons and two daughters. Their youngest son, Bobby, was my age. Over that summer we became friends and played together. In the fall when school started I noticed them boarding a bus, which I now understand took them to a "black" school 18 miles away in Harrisonburg, VA. I believe it was October, I know it was 1963, when my 4th grade teacher one day informed the class that we would be getting two new students in our class. When these two new students arrived, one of them was my friend Bobby. We remained friends through our remaining years at New Market Elementary and our five years at Stonewall Jackson High School, even after his family built a house several blocks away from mine.

So, by my memory, the Shenandoah County Public Schools desegregated early in the 1963/64 school year. From my recollection, during the 5 years I attended Stonewall Jackson High School the African-American population of the school, which averaged between 515 and 535 students in 5 grades, never was more than a dozen, except for the few weeks in the fall when the migrant worker came through picking the fruit.

Beatrice Hunter

Posted: December 3, 2017

Name: Beatrice Hunter

City: Lynchburg

State: VA

School Years: Grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia. Attended Yoder School in Lynchburg from 1955-1961; Seneca Elementary School in Gladys, Va. from 1961-1963; Central Elementary School, Rustburg, Va. from 1963-1964; Campbell County High School, Rustburg, Va. from 1964-1967; Phillips Business College, Lynchburg in 1968; and, Central Virginia Community College in 1990.

Story: The first time I felt actual raw fear, is while standing under a tree waiting for my school bus to pick me up and take me to Central Elementary. I lived in Winfall, Va., a rural area about 15 miles from Lynchburg. In Lynchburg, having been born in a segregated community and raised during a time when "children were seen and not heard," I was fairly ignorant about the bigotry and hate levied at me and my kind. But I was not in Lynchburg that day, I was alone standing under a tree that someone had tacked an announcement of a Klan meeting that night in the neighboring farmer's field. I was only a couple feet away from his property line, and had been admonished never to set foot on his property by my foster mother. I thought it was because he was old and cranky or afraid we would trample his corn or something. No, it was much more sinister than that, and I was alone under a tree on a country road. Today, I am writing a book about my less harrowing school days at Yoder Elementary, segregated, yet secure.

Carlisle Childress

Posted: January 11, 2017

Name: Carlisle Childress
City: Richmond
State: VA

School Years: Grew up in the City of Richmond, Virginia. Attended Kindergarten at Westhampton School; Grades 1-3: A. V. Norrell (now closed -- "The kids in my neighborhood were bused across town to the Battery Park neighborhood school, previously predominately black"); Grades 4-5: A. V. Norrell Annex, a block away from the previous school; Grade 6: Binford Middle School; Grades 7-8: Tuckahoe Middle School ("My parents moved to Henrico County, the schools there were 98% white"); Grades 9-12: Tucker High School, transferred from Hayden to Franklin High School for senior year.

Story: As a kid I was very aware of the events in the news and I knew that busing due to desegregation was controversial around the country with protests in Richmond, Boston and other cities. But I personally loved the long bus ride: it seemed like an adventure to me. I had good friendships with other students regardless of their background. I remember playing with dozens of other students -- black and white -- and remember revering celebrities like Mohammad Ali, Arthur Ashe (who visited our school), and Sammy Davis Jr. We kept the same students and teacher for 2nd and 3rd grade, and together with an art teacher at Norrell we created an animated film about our field trips that year to various places around the City of Richmond. It was called "Trips Around the City" and we won a cash prize for our entry to the 4th National Young Filmmakers' Festival. (In the 80s I met someone still with Richmond Public Schools who had the film in a library, and I've tried to find if anyone has uploaded this film to the Internet, but so far I haven't found it.)

In general, I had a positive experience during school desegregation in the city. I know that other students, particularity older, had unhappy experiences. (I recommend the book, White Girl: A Story of School Desegregation by Clara Silverstein who was a few years older than I and chronicled her experience in Richmond middle and high schools.) I am grateful that my parents and other relatives did not introduce me into the language and culture of racism that they grew up with. I think they wanted those old ways to end. Once my family moved just a few miles to Henrico County, where the schools had not been desegregated, I ran into students who were openly racist, homophobic and bullying.

Christopher Artis Smith, Sr.

Posted: February 20, 2016

Name: Christopher Artis Smith Sr.
City: Courtland
State: VA

School Years: Grew up in Franklin, Virginia. Transferred from Hayden to Franklin High School for senior year.

Story: Attended Franklin High School in the fall of 1965-66 under Freedom of Choice. All three formerly honor students were failed in senior English so they would not march in June.


More of his story was summarized in Carolyn Carter Modlin's dissertation: The Desegregation of Southhampton County, Virginia Schools, 1954-1970:

Summary of an Interview on September 3, 1996
with Christopher Smith, first African-American student to attend Franklin High School
and Member of the Southampton County School Board

Christopher Smith was the first African-American to attend Franklin High School when Freedom of Choice was implemented. After attending Hayden High School, Chris wanted to attend Franklin High School for his senior year.

At Hayden, Smith had been an athlete as well as honor student. He felt that he was well prepared to attend Franklin High School. Classes were not a problem except for senior English. Mrs. Prudence Thorpe was his English teacher. The assignments were not difficult and turned in on time. Grades were returned at just below the failing level. Senior English proved to be the subject that kept Christopher Smith from graduating with the senior class.

Having a seventy-three average (73), Christopher Smith was required to repeat senior English in summer school. At that time no graduation activities were held in the summer. Smith stated that this is one of the reasons that when he became a member of the 106 Southampton County School Board. He insisted that graduation ceremonies also be held for those students who graduated in August.

Christopher Smith recalled that the son of S. W. Rawls, Jr. was also a student in his senior class. He said that he remembered being told that the statement had been made by Mr. Rawls, Sr. that no grandchild of his would graduate in a class with Blacks.

Smith said that he would always wonder if that was the reason that he did not pass senior English to graduate with his class. Smith commented that the Southampton and Franklin Schools had come far since the early days of desegregation. He also shared that attitudes for many individuals had also changed as so many of the fears that people had about ending segregation never came to bear.

Modlin, C. C. (1998). The desegregation of Southhampton County, Virginia schools, 1954-1970. (Ed.D.), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA. pp. 105-106

Patricia Dunn-Fierstein

Finding Grace: DOVE as a Resource for Writers of Fiction

Posted on January 5, 2015

By Patricia Dunn-Fierstein

Two years ago, I began to write a novel called Finding Grace. It was a lot like putting a five thousand­-piece puzzle together without the helpful picture on the lid of the box. But like most puzzles, the corners went in easily-the solid anchors of the beginning, the end, and the key plot points. I knew it was a coming-of-age story, set in the racial turbulence of the early sixties with a thirteen-year-old protagonist - Charlotte "Charlie" O'Brien - caught in a life-altering dilemma. I wanted her in a pressure-cooker, forced to choose between the worn-out values of the bigoted south shared by her alcoholic father and the burgeoning spiritual truths developing within her own heart and mind. I knew these truths would begin to crystallize after an accidental meeting with a new girl in town, Violet Marshall. Charlie would fall in love with Violet and her mother before ever finding out the cataclysmic racial secrets that they held-secrets that would ultimately force Charlie to search her own soul and come face-to-face with death.

As any novelist will tell you, an author must be a detective, willing to ferret out answers to ceaseless questions. After devising a good-enough reason for the Marshall family to move from Maryland to Virginia in 1960, holding racial secrets that could threaten their very lives, I had to learn where Violet would be permitted to attend school.

As I researched Virginia education during the early sixties, I came upon the shocking details of Massive Resistance legislation. It was just the added catalyst I needed. I turned up the heat on my protagonist, entangling Charlie in one of the 1958 school-closings and keeping her trapped for two years in one of the small, all-white, private academies that had cropped up during that time. From the start of the story, Charlie would be eager to meet the worldly and intelligent Violet Marshall and she'd be desperate to begin high school anywhere but "Chesapeake Academy."

In my research, I learned about the Special Collections Library at Old Dominion University, headed by Sonia Yaco at the time. Ms. Yaco directed me to the DOVE website and gave me more information about the work of its volunteers who traveled around the state to collect stories from the people who had been disenfranchised from their basic right to an education.

My husband and I flew from Tampa to Norfolk to explore the area and visit the library, where we collected facts, stories, and quotes from the vast array of source material that had been carefully catalogued by Ms. Yaco and her diligent staff and students. I was stunned to learn of the five-year shutdown in Prince Edward County. Mark Twain's words came to mind, "Truth is stranger than fiction," and I knew that I would include these facts in my book. The stories of Andrew Heidelberg and the rest of the "Norfolk 17" were invaluable in giving me a clear sense of the intensity of the era.

I obtained a lot more than facts from DOVE. I gained a palpable awareness of the emotional climate of the time, which aided in my writing a story that resulted in some of my Beta readers reporting that they stayed up until two a.m. reading or that they couldn't stop crying.

Finding Grace is completed and I am in the final stages of perfecting it for print/e-book. I've begun to look for an agent and publisher and would welcome any ideas that readers might have. I am putting the finishing touches on my website www.patriciadunnfierstein.com, which should be live in the next few months. There, you will be able to download the first several chapters for free and decide for yourself if you would like to read more. At the encouragement of Ann Jimerson, I am writing this post in order to invite others to consider using the DOVE website as a resource for their own fiction writing. There are many stories to be told from the appalling history of Virginia education. I know this as a psychotherapist and DOVE has proven this truth as well-the healing process begins when we have an empathic ear and the courage to share the story of our wound. The stories heal all of us who hear them as well. It is why I wrote Finding Grace-to tell a story of courage in the face of devastating truths, and to show that we can find grace in more ways than one might ever imagine.

Martha Tofferi

Posted: August 15, 2013

State: WA

School Years: My daughter went to a private school solely because the schools at Ft Belvoir were so bad. (For many years DoD had partnered with Fairfax County to run the elementary schools on post. But because of the resistance to desegregation, DoD took these schools back.) Please see continuation below.

Story: This story is different. In the mid-70s I was married & my husband was in the Army at Ft Belvoir, VA. Previously, DoD had contracted w/Fairfax County to run the post-elementary schools. I don't know when DoD 'took' these schools away from Fairfax schools system, but when we came to Belvoir, DoD was running the schools & doing it badly-perhaps because DoD hadn't the organization to do this effectively in this (and in other cases/locations in the south?). My younger daughter wasn't a spectacular student, & we didn't want her going to the Belvoir schools because of their lousy reputation. So she was enrolled in a local private (as I recall evangelical Baptist) school. Many years later I can say this was a big mistake. She took to the religion like a duck to water, I'm sorry to say, as I am a irreligious person. This has been a huge bone of contention between us. I know many children & parents of color faced much worse than we did but massive resistance affected us bystanders as well.

Evelyn (Ames) Molder

Posted: April 13, 2012

[Email sent to Sonia Yaco]


Desegregation as I saw it in 1968 at Capeville Elementary School in Townsend Va. I was 9 years old at the time.

In fourth grade, the wheels of desegregation began. I'd heard family talk about it but I did not know what it meant so I just went about my business. When the day came, I was frightened by some of the white people who felt they were being punished in some fashion for having to bring their kids to this black school. That morning after getting off the bus to school there were station wagons everywhere with big white women on bullhorns calling us niggers and were just mad because their kids had to attend school with us. I was really confused because my parents never spoke that way about anybody I knew. Maybe it was because we were not around white people that much. All I felt was confusion. The police came and dispersed the crowd and school went on as usual. The thing that really got me thinking about how bad this would be was one day when I was on the swings and a white girl was on the one next to me. My mother had done my hair in a bun which meant that a lot of hair pins were there to stop my hair from falling. The girl asked me who put all those nigger pins in my hair. At first I said nothing because I really didn't know how to react. Was it an insult? So she kept repeating it. I finally got sick of it and punched her off the swing. She ran crying to the principal's office and even after explaining what happened I was kept after school and she waved good-bye to me while boarding the bus to go home. This type of treatment continued because no one wanted to take on the white parents of the kids causing the problems. I am thankful to the man who was raised with my mother who was a janitor at the school. He left work early and took me home. He said he didn't want to upset my father who would have hit the roof. Not angry at me but at Mr. Arnold the principle of the school who made me stay after school. He was right. My dad would have gone to his home that night and punched him out. This incident was not the only time that black kids were suffering because of the problems that the white kids would start. Many kids suffered from the teachers as well.

There were many white kids who were very kind and did not disrespect the black kids. Many of those who had physical problems were treated badly by the white kids as well. They were mostly my friends. At that time in school there were bullies who chose not to associate with me as well. So us cast outs played together and talked over our problems. All we had was each other.

It wasn't easy.

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