‘God intended it for good’: Three generations look back over history

Published 9:38 am Monday, May 20, 2024

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Skip Griffin drew from the Book of Genesis to make his point on Sunday. In Genesis 50, Joseph speaks to his brothers, men who had previously sold him into slavery, while telling his father he was dead. But Joseph wasn’t dead. He rose out of captivity to serve as prime minister of Egypt, guiding the country through a time of famine.  

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,” Joseph tells his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “to accomplish what is now being done, the saving and prospering of many lives.”

Speaking to a unique audience at Longwood University, Griffin argued the same statement Joseph made can be applied in Prince Edward County. The “Massive Resistance” to Brown v. Board of Education, the closing of public schools in Prince Edward afterward and the continued segregation that kept Black students out of Longwood University until 1966 were meant for evil, but look at what was achieved through students and parents not giving up the fight. 

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“Because of what you did here, public education is still a reality in Virginia,” Griffin told the men and women in attendance. “Look around. God has created a new thing through you. To those of you who struggled, to those of you who suffered, to those of you who knocked at the door, all of you helped fulfill the prophecy of equality that my father preached.”

Griffin is the son of L. Francis Griffin Sr., who served as a mentor and supporter to Barbara Rose Johns and the other students in that 1951 strike at Moton High. He helped connect them with NAACP attorney Oliver Hill, which led to the lawsuit being filed. Later on, “the Fighting Preacher” as he was known, filed his own lawsuit, when Skip and Griffin Sr.’s other children were among those harmed by the closing of Prince Edward’s public schools. Another example of ‘God intended it for good’. Skip Griffin was one of the plaintiffs in that 1964 case, which made its way to the Supreme Court, where justices agreed with Griffin Sr. 

‘God intended it for good’

Three generations of Prince Edward County residents were honored Sunday during a special ceremony at Longwood University. There was the Walkout Generation, the students and their families who took part in that 1951 strike at Moton High with Barbara Rose Johns, the group whose lawsuit would lead to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Then there was the Locked Out Generation, who were kept out of class for years, after Prince Edward County closed public schools from 1959 to 1964, before fighting back in their own Supreme Court case. And there was the Knock At The Door Generation, those who were denied admission or discouraged from applying to Longwood on the basis of race. 

Members of all three groups received honorary juris doctor degrees, given an opportunity to do what they were prevented from doing decades ago. Each person heard their name called, got to walk across the room and accept the degree, while shaking hands with Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV. 

“It is a day to honor sacrifice, to celebrate achievement and progress and to recommit together to the work each of you in this room has undertaken of shaping a more perfect union for generations to come,” Reveley told the group.

Some were able to walk up and shake hands themselves. Others were represented by children or sometimes grandchildren. Regardless, each man and woman had their own story to tell. For each one, the diploma meant something different. Armstead “Chuckie” Reid was eight when the doors closed for Prince Edward schools. A third grader at the time, Reid saw white students go off to private school, places that banned Black students from enrolling. Meanwhile, he waited for his own classes to reopen. 

“Not for days, but for weeks, months and then five long years,” Reid, now Vice Mayor of the Town of Farmville, said Sunday. “But I thank God we have moved forward with many changes. Equality is justice for us here in Prince Edward County.”  

Cornell Walker, meanwhile, is a proud brother to one of the marchers in the Barbara Johns strike. He himself is also a member of the Locked Out Generation, serving as President of the Moton High Alumni Association. Walker said through the closures, people in the community never stopped praying. 

“We had a lot of people praying for us,” Walker said. He quoted James 5:16, pointing out that “the fervent, effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” 

But there is one thing Walker would like to change, when it comes to the label given to his generation. The group is known as the Locked Out Generation or in some cases The Lost Generation. Walker has a better idea. 

“How about the Generation That Made It?” he said. The generation that endured and, despite the challenges, has multiple members with doctorates, who have served or are serving as political, religious and educational leaders. Again, an example of where the challenges may have been meant for evil, but ‘God intended it for good’. 

God intended it for good

Skip Griffin was the speaker at Sunday’s event, encouraging all three generations to see how they changed history. Herald photo by Connor Thompson.

Moving the country forward 

One thing Griffin wanted members of all three generations to acknowledge was the impact they’ve had, not just on Prince Edward County, but on America as a whole. Time after time, Griffin said, the challenges came. In each generation, the challenges were met and overcome. And with each victory, the nation took a step toward equality. 

“We helped to move the country towards a more perfect union,” Griffin said. “We helped America to live up to the proposition in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which says ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’,” Griffin said. “As a result of what we, the black community in Prince Edward, did, America has moved towards a more perfect nation, moved towards one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all. We still have a ways to go but thank God we ain’t where we used to be.” 

He also wanted each generation to remember that in many ways, time after time, this Black community played a part in history. 

“It all started here,” Griffin said. “Four years before Rosa Parks. Four years before Martin Luther King. Years before Jesse Jackson. Years before Barack Obama. It all started right here and the leader was a 16-year-old girl. It’s hard for women to be leaders today. What in the world led a 16-year-old girl to think that she could be a leader in a time when ‘that’s what men are supposed to do’? But O Lord, did she do it.” 

Johns and every student in each of the three generations was led by God, Griffin said. The challenges men meant for evil, but just like Joseph, ‘God intended it for good’. Yes, God is in the clouds and is in heaven, “but he also walks with us and he talks with us. And he walked with us and talked with us along the way.”