Moton Banquet ‘a beautiful event’

Published 12:01 pm Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The fifth annual Moton Community Banquet was held at the Longwood University Health & Fitness Center Saturday night with an attendance of 550.

It was an appropriate location — in July Longwood University and the Moton Museum finalized a joint affiliation to preserve the museum’s mission in perpetuity.

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In his welcoming remarks, Longwood University President Taylor Reveley IV referenced the university’s selection as the 2016 vice-presidential debate site and the Moton Museum’s role in that decision.

“The Commission of Presidential Debates chose Longwood, Farmville and

Prince Edward very much because of Moton,” Reveley said. “They believe deeply that (Moton’s) story ought to be a national story. We come together as a community to support Moton, to lift up this history which genuinely is the light of the world.”

Led by 16-year-old Barbara Johns, the 1951 Moton Student Strike produced three-fourths of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the landmark Supreme Court decision desegregating U.S. schools. The former Moton High School is now a National Historic Landmark and museum.

Dr. Clarence P. Penn, this year’s banquet honoree, served as principal of Moton and Prince Edward County High School from 1969-1977. He spoke of those years in his address.

“When I came to Prince Edward in 1969, it was a very tough situation, and we had to make it work,” Penn said. “I do appreciate the fact that so much progress has been made.”

Looking around the banquet room representing a cross-section of the Farmville community, Penn added, “You are a fine example of what’s going on in the world today. Rev. Griffin, my mentor, my teacher, believed that one day there would be an event like this. He would be so very proud tonight — he’d have tears in his eyes because of what you’re doing here tonight.”

Moton’s University Liaison Dr. Larissa Fergeson introduced guest speaker Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney.

“Levar Stoney is the first African-American to hold this post and is the youngest member of Gov. McAuliffe’s cabinet,” Fergeson said.

“I stand here as a beneficiary of the efforts and struggles of people I’ve never met,” Stoney said. “I’m the first in my family to graduate from high school, the first in my family to go to college and get a college degree. That would not be possible without the courage and brave acts of students back in 1951.”

Stoney spoke about his efforts to restore civil rights to ex–offenders. 

“Once you’re convicted of a felony, you walk around with a scarlet letter on your chest every day. People convicted of a crime 20, 30, 40 years ago can’t vote; they may have difficulty getting a job,” Stoney said.

Stoney cited the recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States.

“The pope preached forgiveness and mercy,” Stoney said. “Things happen, and people make mistakes. This is about forgiveness. I am proud to say we have restored the right to vote of 11,000 Virginians in this governor’s term.”

The enthusiastic voices of the next generation, the Community Youth Ensemble directed by Perry Carrington, closed the program.

Dr. Penn described the evening well. “This is a beautiful event,” he said.