‘Aggressive’ characterizations by publisher’s column questioned

Published 4:21 pm Thursday, December 17, 2015

Like the Rev. William Thompson (“Racial discomfort lingers,” Dec. 2), I was deeply disappointed by Steve Stewart’s column in The Herald (“Unmistakable progress,” Nov. 11).

I agree with Stewart that the recent election of Megan Clark signals real progress in Prince Edward.

But I deplore his aggressive, dismissive and inaccurate characterizations of Kristen Green’s book, “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County.”

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No careful reader would conclude that Green’s thoughtful, anguished narrative “trashes” her hometown, just as no careful analyst would conclude that Clark’s election invalidates the painful insights that Green offers.

I am not native to Farmville or Prince Edward, but my family and I have lived in this community for 32 years. Our collective experiences here have shown us how much progress in racial relations has been made during the past quarter century.

But our experiences have also revealed to us the ongoing, far-reaching damage to this community that is the direct, lasting result of the tragically misguided and destructive decisions of the 1950s and 1960s.

In the name of progress, some simply wish to stop talking about the closing of the schools and the founding of a segregated academy and to move on. It is to her great credit that Green refuses to let us suppress events and decisions that have shaped the community during the past 70 years.

If she has more doubt than some about the extent of the racial progress Prince Edward has made, she has earned a right to her skepticism from her conversations with many local people, black and white alike, over the past decade.

On Nov. 18, Green spoke to a capacity audience at Hampden-Sydney College. You could have heard a pin drop during her presentation, so engaged was her audience in this story that many of them had never heard, or never heard detailed so memorably.

Several people later told me that it was the most moving, most powerful public presentation they had witnessed at Hampden-Sydney.

Far from insulting her community on a national stage, far from enjoying “a literary victory lap,” as Stewart offensively charges, Green has given all of us here the gift of memory, a beneficial if painful gift.

Yes, we must all dedicate ourselves to helping our town and county improve themselves, as Stewart recommends, but doing so will be difficult if we revile those like Green who help us to understand who we are by showing us who and what we have been in the past.

Lowell T. Frye lives in Farmville with his spouse, Elizabeth J. Deis — both educators at Hampden-Sydney College. Both participate in the wider community, helping with the schools, the community library, youth athletics and the local food pantry. Frye’s email address is lfrye@hsc.edu.