Novel tells story of school closings

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 6, 2017

Rita Odom Moseley was the same age as the spirited protagonist in her recently published novel, “No School,” when Prince Edward County Public Schools closed its doors in 1959 in protest of integration.

Rita Odom Moseley

Moseley, who was 12 at the time, was among 3,200 African-American students who were denied public education for five years.

“Kids sometimes don’t realize the importance of being in school,” Moseley said. “They don’t know what it is like for people like me who did not have that.”

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Following her experience, Moseley wanted to tell the story that she and others had experienced, seen through the eyes of a child.

“No School” follows 12-year-old Atir, who wishes for no school after an accident makes her the target of bullying.

Atir is then taken back in time to 1959 in Farmville, where she and other children see firsthand what it is like to have no school to go to.

Moseley was unable to attend school for two years following the closing, according to a news release regarding her novel.

In the third year, she went to Blacksburg where she attended the Christiansburg Industrial Institute. She lived with strangers, a mother and daughter, and later returned to Prince Edward County to attend the county’s Free School for African-American students, and later graduated from Robert R. Moton High School.

“The story itself was inspired by what happened to me,” Moseley said. “At first you may not think school is important, but once you can’t have it for five years, it doesn’t take five years to realize how important education was.”

In 2008, in her late 50s, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville. Moseley went on to earn her master’s degree in 2013 from Liberty University. Both degrees were funded by the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program that were available to those who were directly affected by the closing of the public schools from 1959-1964, according to Moseley’s website.

Moseley was approved to receive her doctorate, but declined in order to pursue her lifelong passion — writing.

“(I was able to) fulfill my mother’s dream for me,” Moseley said through her education and advocacy. “That is what she wanted, for me to have an education.”

Moseley worked in the Prince Edward County Public Schools system for 35 years as a secretary to the principal at Prince Edward County High School, a teacher’s assistant, a library assistant and a substitute teacher.

Working in education in the same public school system that had shuttered its doors to her and others made it a symbolic experience.

“It made it significant for me to be working there,” Moseley said.

Moseley said she was inspired to write the book in 2008 and would go to the Barbara Rose Johns Farmville-Prince Edward Community Library several times a week to work on it.

Moseley had the help of several teachers at Prince Edward for editing and advice, and she received the recommendation from an art teacher of a student, Amber Harvin, who illustrated the book.

Moseley will hold a book signing Monday at the Moton Museum at 900 Griffin Blvd., where she will read segments of the book aloud and sign book copies from 5-7 p.m.

This article has been corrected from its original version.