This Day in History

June 26, 1959: Prince Edward County Closes Public Schools

Time Periods: 1945
Themes: African American, Democracy & Citizenship, Education

Rather than desegregate, the Prince Edward County, Virginia Board of Supervisors refused to appropriate money from the County School Board to the public schools on June 26, 1959.

It was in Prince Edward County in 1951 that 16-year-old Barbara Johns led her classmates in a strike to protest the substandard conditions at her high school (now the Moton Museum). The NAACP got involved and Prince Edward County became part of the Brown v. Board case.

Student protest in Prince Edward County.

Sandy Stokes walks down Main Street in Farmville to protest school closures in July of 1963. Source: VCU Libraries. Click image to see more photos.

The refusal by the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to fund public schools continued for five years. It was part of the Massive Resistance Movement and effectively closed the doors of the county’s schools. During these years Black students were forced to find education wherever, and if, they could. (In Virginia, as part of the Massive Resistance, the 1954 the Democratic Party gubernatorial campaign platform resolved that, “The state [will] oppose it [integration] with every facility at our command, and with every ounce of our energy.”) White students attended new segregated private schools, the last of which began to accept Black students in 1986.

Read a detailed history of the fight for equal access to education in Prince Edward County in the excellent 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities article by Katy June-Friesen, “Massive Resistance in a Small Town: Before and after Brown in Prince Edward County, Virginia.”

Below are resources for teaching about the long fight for school desegregation.