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Moton Wins NEH Grant

FARMVILLE – The Robert Russa Moton Museum's goal of becoming Virginia's leading civil rights heritage site has taken an important step forward.

The museum has been awarded a $350,000 implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The funding will go toward Phase II of the Moton Museum's permanent exhibit fabrication and installation.

“We are very pleased to receive this grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” said Lacy Ward, Jr., Moton Museum director. “NEH grants are highly competitive and it is rare that small budget museums like Moton receive such substantial support.”

The museum received the largest grant awarded by NEH, with George Mason University coming in second. The average of the 208 NEH grants was $82,000.

Such financial recognition makes an important statement, Ward believes, given the national scope of the NEH's grant reach.

“Our successful application is testament to the national significance of Prince Edward County's public school desegregation saga,” Ward observed. “The award is also testament to the quality of scholarly work performed by Longwood University's Dr. Larissa Fergeson and the quality of the exhibit design by StudioAmmons of Petersburg.”

Combined with an earlier grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission, the Moton Museum now has nearly $800,000 earmarked toward its goal of $1.8 million to complete the permanent display exhibits.

David Martz, Jr., Senior Program Officer for the NEH Division of Public Programs, which administers the grant program, said “The Robert R. Moton High School story contains valuable lessons for all Americans about courage, non-violence, and human dignity that could not be timelier in today's world.”

Of the five localities involved in the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown decision, Prince Edward County was the only locality to have a case initiated by student protest.

In fact, the April 23, 1951 strike against separate and unequal school facilities for blacks is regarded by many as the birth of the civil rights movement, occurring more than four years prior to Rosa Park's refusal to go to the back of a bus.

The Moton Museum will tell the Prince Edward County story from multiple perspectives, taking into consideration how gender, race, and class affected individuals' positions in these struggles.

Visitors will have the opportunity to explore the meanings of equality and citizenship in America and consider the role of education in our democracy, commented one reviewer of the museum's grant application. Visitors will be challenged to rethink their historical understandings as they discover how “everyday citizens led extraordinary change.”

The project shifts the focus of the movement away from prominent national figures and spokespersons, and instead highlights the importance of grassroots resistance to segregation.

It eschews a “monolithically bi-polar racial confrontation” in favor of a much more nuanced, localities narrative, noted Martz.