School Board Honors Civil Rights Leaders

Published 12:24 pm Thursday, December 4, 2014

PRINCE EDWARD — County school board members held a public hearing Wednesday evening and, with all speakers in support, unanimously agreed to name three sites within the county’s schools in honor of local civil rights leaders.

The high school’s auditorium will be named in honor of Barbara Rose Johns; the middle school cafeteria in honor of the Rev. L. Francis Griffin; and the school board’s meeting room for long-time Superintendent Dr. James M. Anderson.

“…These three individuals really are a no-brainer—they make sense,” offered Associate Director of the R.R. Moton Museum Justin Reid in the sparsely attended public hearing. “These are national education heroes. They did something important here in Prince Edward County that changed the country.”

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The school board has been discussing the school site-naming proposal presented by Board Chairman Russell Dove in October and scheduled Wednesday’s public hearing.

Sixteen-year-old Johns led a walkout of students at the R.R. Moton High School (located at the corner of Main Street and Griffin Boulevard) on April 23, 1951 to protest unequal school facilities. Her actions, and that of others, eventually led to the court case that became part of the Brown Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in public schools.

Rev. Griffin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Farmville, picked up the mantle of the civil rights struggle. It is his daughter whose name is on the court case decided by Supreme Court (Cocheyse J. Griffin, et als, v. County School Board of Prince Edward County), which effectively declared if Prince Edward did not operate public schools there could be no public schools in Virginia because it was a denial of equal protection of the law.

Dr. Anderson served as the superintendent of the County’s public schools for 25 years, leading the school division following the reopening of the public schools. (Rather than integrate, Prince Edward closed their public schools from 1959-64.)

And there was only praise and support in the hearing for naming the sites.

“Being a part of that era, I really feel very happy about it. I’m really touched,” commented Joy Cabarrus Speakes.

Former school board member and Moton Council representative Dorothy Holcomb offered that it’s “well deserved.”

The board, on a hand vote, approved the change, but—prior to that action in a separate motion—set future naming criteria. The board outlined that the individual must have made a significant contribution to public education that impacted Prince Edward County’s entire school division; that the location name would transfer to any future building (should, for example a new high school be built, Barbara Johns name would be applied to the new site); and that the sites would be identified by their honorary name in any announcements, publications or other school related documents.

Dove indicated that he had spoken with either the honoree or the family of the honorees and that they were excited by the gesture.