On the Trail: Discovering African American History in Virginia

Article excerpt

STUDENTS DON'T realize there is so much history right in their own backyards, " says Teresa Dowell-Vest. Her favorite story to tell high school students is about the walkout at R.R. Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

A student walkout at the school on April 23, 1951, set in motion more than a decade of struggle for fair education in Virginia. Rather than integrate after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Prince Edward County withheld funds for public education, closing Moton and all public schools in the county for four years until 1964, when the Supreme Court forced them to reopen.

The stories of the walkout and other events in education of the Civil Rights movement are interpreted at the Robert Russa Moton Museum in Farmville-a site on Virginia's African American Heritage Trail.

"In order to get the full story of any of the historic sites in Virginia, you need African American history, " says Teresa Dowell-Vest, director of the African American Heritage Program of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. She travels throughout the state visiting schools, libraries, and other places to talk about the sites on the trail. They include some of the oldest black churches in the country, schools that played vital roles for integration, homes of important African American leaders, and museums dedicated to interpreting African American experiences. The Legacy Museum for African American History in Lynchburg is one of the sites; their current exhibition, "Struggle, Sacrifice, and Scholarship: Black Education in Central Virginia," features artifacts and stories from community members. There is also the restored cabin of a freed slave at Montpelier, and the home of Anne Spencer-- the first Virginian and the first African American to have her work included in the Norton Anthology of American Poetry. …


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