Partnership Brings Optimism: Longwood University, Moton Museum Pact Hailed

Published 3:18 pm Thursday, July 9, 2015

FARMVILLE — Longwood University and Moton Museum announced a “Covenant in Perpetuity” this week.

The two, as part of that agreement, “stand poised to work together in affiliation and in mutual service of their respective public missions: advancing civil rights in education, and the preparation of citizen leaders.”

“I just see that it’s going to be a positive move for both entities,” Robert Russa Moton Museum Council Chair Dorothy Holcomb said Wednesday. “And the main thing in my mind is, just the success of the museum and telling the story as a piece of history and Longwood has been very committed to helping us do that, and that’s my motivation for moving forward with the affiliation.”

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University President W. Taylor Reveley IV sees it as a wonderful opportunity for everyone.

“…For Moton and the museum, I think it gives the museum a chance to do what it’s always dreamed of, which is — with Longwood’s administrative support and just efficiencies of scale and marketing outreach — we can really altogether tell the story of Moton and Barbara Johns at a national level, which…it really ought to be told on a national level,” he said.

It’s great for Longwood because it’s centrally focused on citizen leadership, Reveley said, and there’s “no better example of that than Barbara Johns and so it’s just this profound opportunity for teaching and exposing Longwood students to Moton’s history.”

According to Reveley, it’s also a great opportunity for scholarship, to really have civil rights historians delve into the rich archives for such things as oral histories.

”It’s a way for everybody to keep working together to see the community itself better and better known at the regional level and at the national level. It’s an amazing thing that the Civil War functionally wound to a close right along High Street and Main Street and that the Civil Rights Movement began at Moton,” Reveley said.

The single-story brick building at the intersection of Griffin Boulevard and Main Street, through the efforts of a determined group, including the Martha E. Forrester Council of Women, preserved the old school when it went out of service in the 1990s. It was here at a pivotal moment in civil rights history on April 23, 1951, where 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a student walkout of what was then known as R.R. Moton High School to protest unequal school facilities. Her actions, and that of others, eventually led to the court case that became part of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in public schools.

Rather than integrate, Prince Edward closed its public schools in 1959, reopening them in September 1964.

Longwood University’s Board of Visitors passed a formal resolution last year expressing regret over the institution’s actions during the civil rights era, apologized to those who have been hurt and established a new “Moton Legacy” scholarship program to support equality in educational opportunity.

The Board of Visitors resolution adopted last fall states, in part, that “during the years of ‘Massive Resistance’ to the integration of local schools during the 1950s and 1960s, while many individual members of the Longwood community spoke and acted bravely in support of the inarguable principle of equal protection under the law and educational opportunity for all, as an institution Longwood failed to stand up publicly for these ideals, resulting in support to those who opposed desegregation, and falling short in its duty to provide strong moral leadership in the community … .”

The June 30 formalized covenant, in an outlined announcement, establishes in perpetuity the purpose of the Moton Museum and its building on Griffin Boulevard: to share the Moton story, to advance understanding of the history of the struggle for civil rights, and to advance the cause of civil rights in education. The partnership offers the museum operational support and increased depth in key areas such as marketing, technology, fundraising, and scholarship and teaching and provides Longwood an opportunity to enhance the university’s mission to shape citizen leaders.

Holcomb said that they’ve had “pretty dedicated council members” and have a very good staff “so now we’ve just got to go through a transition to get where we want to be and keep … the museum going.”

The museum is doing well attracting visitors, increasing its numbers annually, she said. In May, Holcomb went to Virginia Beach and spoke to 300 seventh-graders. Her microcosm connection involved a Longwood student who is teaching there. The fact that Longwood stepped forward with a scholarship, she said, “means a lot to me in that all those people who struggled so hard for us this whole movement … which wasn’t in vain … the scholarship is coming out of that.”

Longwood’s Moton Legacy Scholarship supports a Longwood student with a demonstrated commitment to the cause of equality of opportunity in education. Chrischel Rolack, of Ivor, has been named the first recipient of the scholarship, which will cover her tuition and fee charges next year. Rolack, who plans to become a teacher, is involved in public service as a tutor and her church here.

Gone immediately from the museum are admission charges. The Moton Council and Board and Longwood will also collaborate to assemble a search committee “to identify and recruit a visionary Executive Director to carry forward the work of the Museum,” according to the announcement.

“Of course, in every relationship, there’s a transition period,” Holcomb said. “And we just have to go through a transition period and I think people are committed to doing it right to make sure that the vision of the museum is the main focus, our main focus.”

If they all focus on that, she speculated, and come to terms, it would be a smooth transition.

Not charging for admission, Holcomb said, would mean more access to more people.

Others touched by the project enthusiastically embraced the announcement.

“It’s the best thing that could happen to Longwood and it’s the best thing that could happen to Moton,” said Lacy Ward Jr., the museum’s first and founding director who guided it through its initial capital campaign. “One of the greatest stories in American history is right at Longwood’s back door. I think in the future it will help attract faculty and students who are interested in learning more about America and its 20th century transformations, and it gives the museum long-term sustainability that’s necessary to make it an ongoing resource for Southside Virginia.”

Prince Edward County Board Chairman and Moton Museum board member Howard Simpson said he thinks it “will be a good deal for both.”

Reveley noted, “It’s hard to spend time at the museum or with the people directly affected by and involved in the school’s closing and not be just tremendously moved by the courage involved and the conviction and the heartache — really on all sides, black and white — and I do find myself thinking about the fact that it’s vital that this is a story that the nation knows about ….”

While Longwood is investing in the museum, Reveley said it’s “not a consequential financial decision for anybody, really.”  Moton, he added, has been really successful with philanthropic fundraising through time and raised more than $6 million in recent years. He added that every indication is that that’s going to keep working really well. “So the big thing is that it allows two institutions that have already been doing lots of work together to gain just that much more efficiency of things…whether it’s IT or maintenance, and work together on telling the story,” Reveley said.

The museum will continue as its own 501(c)(3) under the affiliation. Reveley believes there will be aid, grants and sponsorship opportunities and that working together, more would be available.

Joy Cabarrus Speaks, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, sees the partnership as the next chapter in the Moton story.

“I am just so happy that I was one of the strikers and a plaintiff and that I’ve lived to see all of this develop and now that I can feel [assurance] that the story, the Moton School story, which is the children of courage, will go on forever,” she said.

This week’s announcement has been a year in the works. Holcomb explained that they wanted to make sure they had the covenant in place and that it was the right thing to do. They see many other museums moving toward university affiliations, and there are so many things that Longwood can offer which will be beneficial and help them move forward in getting the message out. She also cited having a president at Longwood who is committed to the vision of the museum, which she said “means a whole lot.”

Where does she see it in 10 years?

“I see it as an improved facility in that we will have a wider audience. I see it being [a] nationwide story. I see it being in history books,” Holcomb said.