Moton Museum Merits Annual Financial Commitment From Prince Edward County

Published 3:35 pm Thursday, March 8, 2012

As Prince Edward County prepares the 2012-13 fiscal year budget there is a request for funding of $34,500 from the Robert Russa Moton Museum.

The Museum, which has received donations from the County in the past, merits continued support in next year's budget and, moreover, a long-term financial commitment from the County; $50,000 a year, indexed for inflation, would be a meaningful annual contribution, and completely justified.

There are hundreds of civil war battle sites across America, scores of Revolutionary War historic markers in the U.S., and any number of houses where presidents and other history-making people lived. But there is only one location and community in the United States of America-Prince Edward County-that can so justifiably claim to be the birthplace of the civil rights movement.

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Prince Edward County, in fact, can look itself in the mirror today and see the reflection of a community from which came affirmation of the Constitutional right of every child to a public education, thanks to what began on April 23, 1951, at what was then Robert Russa Moton High School, and what it subsequently led to 13 years later, remembering that the students' action also gave birth to Prince Edward County's pivotal inclusion in what became the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that segregated public schools must no longer be part of the American landscape.

Those R. R. Moton High School students went on strike against separate and unequal school facilities for blacks more than four years before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus.

No other community in the United States can claim that triple distinction of being the birthplace of the civil rights movement, playing a pivotal role in Brown and affirming the Constitutional right to a public education. How many localities can claim that? Just one.

The United States Supreme Court's 1964 Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County decision is much lesser known but every bit as important as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision because it did provide final and everlasting confirmation of the Constitutional right of every child to a public education and the responsibility of every city and county in America to provide that education.

That's huge, American history on a vast scale. Made here.

A $50,000 annual donation is an investment in the community's own vital place in U.S. history. The Moton Museum, which anchors the 14-county Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail, will generate economic benefits through tourism for Prince Edward County as long as there is a Prince Edward County, teaching and educating visitors about the triumphant struggle of a nation-seen through the microcosm of one county in Virginia-toward a fuller embrace of its cherished beliefs.

Yes, this is not simply about cold hard cash and economic benefits.

Personally, I'd sooner see Monticello razed than consider the life of our community-at the local, state and national level-without the Moton Museum. It was at the former R. R. Moton High School that the young people of this county gave life to the words composed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

Their flesh and blood and heart and soul walked the truth that all people are created equal. That they are-that we all are-endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights. And that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The students of R. R. Moton High School had the audacious patriotic faith to believe the words written on our nation's birth certificate.

Thomas Jefferson set the bar high back in 1776, higher than even he, himself, and the rest of our Founding Fathers were able to reach with their own actions. Our nation still strives to live up to those words to their fullest meaning. But we are striving together and we are better able to strive hand in hand and heart to heart because of what happened at R. R. Moton High School on April 23, 1951-where it led this nation-what is happening at the Moton Museum in Prince Edward County today and what can happen in the future when the museum completes construction of its galleries.

Should the Board of Supervisors appropriate $34,500 to the Moton Museum next year, the County's donations since 2001 would total $300,000; that is equal to the amount paid to the County for the building by the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women, largely through individual donations to the cause of saving the building that would be declared a National Historic Landmark and turn it into a museum for civil rights in education.

The wisdom of those individuals and the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women has been proven and re-proven over and over and Prince Edward County is fortunate that so many people dug into their pockets to save the County from going down in history as having sold-and thereby destroyed-a national historic treasure to some developer for a fast-food restaurant.

Prince Edward County deserves credit for making appropriations to the museum that is blossoming in its heart and soul. Formalizing the County's commitment of support would produce both tangible and intangible results of great value.

Every generation must produce its own set of Founding Fathers, Founding Mothers, Founding Brothers and Sisters. We are that generation today. Let us continue building on the Founding Moment that rises and shines at the corner of Griffin Boulevard and Main Street.

Keep honoring that story, Prince Edward County, and continue writing its next chapters.