Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia

By Titus, Jill Ogline | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia


Titus, Jill Ogline, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia * Christopher Bonastia * Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012 * xii, 338 pp. * $45.00

From 1959 to 1964, white citizens of Prince Edward County kept desegregation at bay by washing their hands of the responsibility to operate a public school system. While school districts across the South temporarily closed a building here or there to block a specific court order, only in Prince Edward did local authorities abandon public education entirely and with every intention of permanence. Christopher Bonastia's exhaustively researched study of the school closing crisis adds enormously to our understanding of the significance of the events in Prince Edward, posing a series of provocative questions that will capture the attention of readers from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Arguing that "one can scarcely comprehend the school closings outside the context of state and national politics," Bonastia smoothly carries the reader back and forth between the legislative chambers of Richmond, the classrooms and homes of Prince Edward County, and the white-columned office buildings of Washington, D.C. (p. 9). Specialists and non-specialists alike will appreciate his sensitive rendering of Virginia's circuitous path from massive resistance to token integration and the rich context he establishes for Prince Edward s place in that story.

The heart of Bonastia's book lies in two chapters that explore, respectively, white justifications for the decision to close the schools (chapter six) and the strengths and limitations of legal mobilization strategies to achieve social change (chapter seven). These chapters squarely insert the book into ongoing historiographical and sociological conversations about resource mobilization and the roots of modern conservatism.

From the day the schools closed up to the present, residents, veterans of the struggle, and historians of the Prince Edward crisis have grappled with the question whether earlier employment of direct action strategies (used extensively in the summer of 1963) might have forced an earlier reopening of the schools. …

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