Author of a Civil Rights-era school integration book speaks at Blue Bicycle

Too many left behind

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Kristen Green's book, Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, comes at a timely moment for America, and specifically, for Charleston. 

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The book, which Green calls part memoir and part history, discusses the five years between 1959 and 1964 when Prince Edward County Va. closed all public schools to prevent integration. Opening a private white school, county leaders offered no other schooling options for the area's black children.

The P&C's recent series, "Left Behind: The unintended consequences of school choice," echoes this book in some of its findings. Essentially, when white kids leave a school or a school district, those left behind suffer. In the case of Prince Edward County the suffering resulted in an entire county's black youth population forced to travel outside of the county for an education, or often, to simply not receive one. 

If you're like us you probably do a lot of This American Life listening. Two recent episodes covered the topic of forced integration in public schools, and the pros and cons of bussing white kids to black schools and vise versa. The general consensus was that, yes, integration is good. The obstacles to it though, are vast and complicated and heavily nuanced. Green says that America's schools now are more integrated than they've ever been.

Green points out that a lot of people don't realize how un-specific the ruling, Brown v. Board of Education is. A lot of people also don't know that Prince Edward County's 1951 school walkout was one of the five cases that comprised the Supreme Court case. The ultimate decision to desegregate schools was never meant to go into immediate effect. In fact, there were very few guidelines as to how states should integrate schools. 

According to Green, Prince Edward County, after being used as an example in the Board of Education case, thought that they'd be held up as an example and forced to integrate quickly. Their solution? Close down the public schools.

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Green admits that it's hard to understand why there wasn't any pushback from black families and local leaders. Reading her book, though, you quickly realize that a lot of people had no choice in the swift and powerful actions taken by Prince Edward County's white leaders. The political powerhouse of Prince Edward was dead-set in their ways, and with contributions from people across the country, they managed to open a private white school solely on donations for an entire year (tuition was required in the following years). 

During her research Green found article after article that called for fundraising for the white academy (originally called Prince Edward Academy, now called the Fuqua School). She had trouble finding any news coverage of what black families planned to do once public schools were closed. At the time of the school closings Longwood University went along with the segregationists. They recently issued an apology. "All these years later, the apologies are starting to happen," says Green. 

"It's better for everyone to be in a school that's a mix [of races]," says Green. "We're learning that's the only thing that works." Green married a multiracial man of American-Indian heritage and she says that she was worried about raising her mixed-race children in the South. Green lived in Virginia for a while with her small children; she now resides in San Diego. The story of Prince Edward County hits home for Green in so many ways, but perhaps most significantly, in the fact that her grandfather was one of the core members of the "Defenders,'" a group of county leaders who worked to defend states' rights.

"This book is me coming to terms with my family's involvement," says Green. She hopes that her book contributes to the conversations that are currently going on around the country. "We need to go back and look at our histories," she says.

Green will give a free talk at Blue Bicycle Books this coming Tuesday at 5 p.m.

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