“We may observe, with as much sadness as irony that outside of Africa, south of the Sahara where education is still a difficult challenge, the only places on earth known not to provide free pubic education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras— and Prince Edward County Virginia.”
The NAACP challenged the closing of the schools in the Grifﬁn v. County School Board of Prince Edward case. The legal challenge bogged down in state and federal courts, and the school closures lasted for years. The plight of Prince Edward’s children attracted media attention and drew civil rights activists to the county.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. visited the county to lend his encouragement. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace organization, placed children with host families in the North so they could attend school. The AFSC also worked in the county, supporting local efforts to address the children’s needs and to bring an end to the school closings. During the summers, college student volunteers flocked to Prince Edward to staff tutor-ing and recreational programs.
Supported by the Kennedy administration, the Prince Edward Free School Association organized to create privately funded schools open to all the county’s children. Students concentrated on reading and mathematics, while older students also learned job skills. The assessment of the Free Schools varied, but some studies showed pupils had gained an average of two years of schools in ten months. Twenty-three students graduated from the Free Schools in 1964.
Thirteen years after the Davis case was filed, the Supreme Court ordered the schools reopened. In Grifﬁn v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote: “The time for mere ‘deliberate speed’ has run out, and that phrase can no longer justify denying these…children their constitutional rights to an education.” The courage and sacrifice of children ensured the constitutional principle was won. Yet, the struggle to achieve educational quality in Prince Edward—as in the rest of America—continued long after 1964.
A bomb severely damaged a Negro church today during Sunday school services, killing four Negro girls and setting off racial rioting and other violence in which two Negro boys were shot to death.
MEETING STUDENTS' NEEDS
“We all realized now that we were rescue workers in a disaster area. The damage was devastating, but there was perhaps still time to save the victims if we jumped in and started teaching.”
— NEIL SULLIVAN, BOUND FOR FREEDOM
THE FREE SCHOOL
FACULTY & STAFF
“I have opportunities for qualified teachers in Prince Edward County for immediate employment. Please direct qualified people to come to Farmville for an interview. Your urgent attention is necessary if we are to open our schools on September 16. Your help, please.”
Upper School Faculty
Lower School Faculty
May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963
THE FREE SCHOOL
ROBERT F. KENNEDY VISITS
THE GRIFFIN DECISION
“Chief Justice Warren asked, ‘May I ask about those little colored children who have been without education? Have they had freedom?'
‘They've had liberties,' responded J. Segar Gravatt, attorney for Prince Edward County.”
“And freedom to go through life without an education," the Chief Justice said.