Fairfax renown for civil rights action

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Jean E. Fairfax, whose crucial work in civil rights and education impacted Prince Edward County, is being honored for her life and dedication to human rights.

Fairfax died Feb. 12 at 98 years old.

Fairfax was a leading representative of the American Friends Service Committee and the Legal Defense Fund (LDF).

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Her ties with Prince Edward County arose from her work as director of Southern Programs with the American Friends Service Committee.

During the years of 1959-1964, in which Prince Edward County closed its public schools to resist integration, the American Friends Service Committee helped send students affected by the school closures outside Prince Edward County in order for the students to continue their education.

James E. Ghee Esq., a lawyer in Farmville and president of the NAACP in Prince Edward County, said he was one of 66 students in Prince Edward who was impacted by the work of the American Friends Service Committee program.

Ghee said he first met Fairfax in Prince Edward County in 1960 while attending one of the Training Centers established for black students locked out of public education by the closing of public schools at that time. Ghee said he had been promoted to the ninth grade in June 1959. Ghee said he was helping other students with their work at the time he met Fairfax.

Fairfax noticed his work, Ghee said, and asked him if he wanted to attend school outside of Prince Edward for the 1960-1961 school year. Ghee said yes.

After he and Fairfax spoke with his family, Ghee traveled to Iowa City, Iowa to attend high school.

“Her organization had made contact with a group of citizens in Iowa City, and they had made all of the arrangements for me to attend high school and live with a family in Iowa City,” Ghee said.

He said he and Fairfax remained in contact as Ghee graduated, and as he attended law school. Ghee said he spoke at several conferences Fairfax held after she began working with the LDF.

Fairfax, Ghee said, returned to Prince Edward County on several occasions after Ghee returned to Farmville as an attorney in 1975.

“She has had a great impact on my life and has made it possible for me to the person I am today,” Ghee said. “As it has been stated, she is one of the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement and will be missed by many.”

“We are saddened by the passing of Ms. Jean Fairfax,” Moton Museum Director Cameron Patterson said in a statement. “Ms. Fairfax was a true unsung hero during the civil rights movement as she tirelessly worked to help integrate public schools across the country. Her legacy is forever tied to Prince Edward County through her work with the American Friends Service Committee and later the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Her work in Prince Edward County during the school closings focused on supporting local grassroots efforts that advanced the educational needs of citizens, advocating for intervention from the federal government, and helping to create interracial understanding.”

Patterson said Fairfax’s work continued later into her life through her philanthropy and advocacy, to champion equality.

“In our work each day to share the Moton Story with visitors we share of Ms. Fairfax work on behalf of Prince Edward citizens to advance civil rights in education,” Patterson said.