50 years of integration

Published 9:36 am Wednesday, December 11, 2019

An educational forum celebrating 50 years of full integration at Cumberland County Public Schools took place on the morning of Nov. 8 at Cumberland High School. The forum served to educate current high school and middle school students about the school’s history as well as to celebrate the historical occasion.

Attendees of the celebration included several members of the “Cumberland 10,” the first group of African Americans to integrate the county’s public schools. Members of the Cumberland 10 that were able to attend included Kern Gilliam, Yetta Gilliam, Ernestine Jones Monroe, Gwen Lipscomb Hairston and LaVerne Reid Depte. Robert Jones was unable to attend but was represented by video, and Rosalind Gilliam could not attend but wrote written expressions for the event. Deceased Cumberland 10 members Sam Reid, and Gloria Washington Hill were represented by proxy.

The forum was also made up of a panel consisting of former teachers James “Coach” Johnson Jr. and Barbara Gamage as well as former students including Hairston, Rev. Robert Jones, Frankie Baber, Libby Lowry Blanton, Debora Holcomb Travis and Dr. Jeffrey Scales.

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Moderating the event was Michael D. Scales. Scales was among the first African Americans to help integrate Cumberland schools. Scales and his sister, Patricia, were voluntary enrolled by their parents at Cumberland High School at the start of the 1966-1967 academic year, which was the second year that such voluntary enrollment had been permitted to African Americans. Scales taught Spanish at Cumberland and many other Virginia schools and is an active member of many local organizations including the Cumberland County Branch NAACP. The concept of a forum discussing the school division’s integration, according to Scales, had been at the back of his mind for sometime.

“Schools Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin, as assisted by Dr. Elizabeth Jamerson of the School Board Office, had been absolutely amazing as she readily embraced and fully facilitated from start to finish the overview planning by she, NAACP President Ms. Yvonne Irving, NAACP leader Ms. Rose McClinton, and myself,” stated Scales.

He continued, “The most sentimental part of the event for me was when I and my siblings Jeff and Rita stood as I read expressions we had written as a family regarding our father, the late Mr. Robert L. Scales, as we stated our gratitude for him being honored for his collective efforts with two other Cumberland County leaders (the late E. Armstrong Smith and the late John Lipscomb,) to facilitate the timely, gradual, and peaceful transition of the public schools into a fully integrated one.”

According to Scales, the educational forum included a question and answer portion in which current students could ask panelists about their experiences and insight regarding the integration of Cumberland.

“We were honored to collaborate with the Cumberland NAACP and Historical Society in providing a moment of living history for our students,” said Griffin. “There are not many times in life that you get to meet and hear from people that actually participated in a moment of history that you read and study about in school as well as one that made such a huge positive impact on who we are as a school division today. This event allowed us to celebrate and honor 50 years of full integration at Cumberland County Public Schools while providing an authentic learning experience for our students.”