Exhibit on Segregation History in Virginia Opens Monday

Posted: January 21, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Mitchell

A faded and crumbling tan brick pillar is all that is left of Buckingham County Training School, the only black high school for miles in that rural part of Virginia before 1954. The pillar, along with a wood-burning stove and some desks, are now part of “Separate and Unequal in Buckingham County: an Exhibit on Segregation and Desegregation in Virginia,” in the Johnson Center Gallery on the Fairfax Campus beginning Monday, Jan. 24.

The exhibit will also include excerpts from interviews with African American students, teachers, and principals from Buckingham County talking about their classroom experiences prior to the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. Phyllis Slade-Martin, director of the African American Studies Research and Resource Center, along with Jody Allen, a doctoral candidate at the College of William and Mary, conducted the interviews in 2001. Slade-Martin says the stories they collected are an attempt to hold on to the voices of people who experienced segregation firsthand.

“We have a very clear picture of what it was like to live in Buckingham County as African Americans, and to attend school there, while the county gave very little funding to black education but completely funded white education,” she says. Slade-Martin, who graduated from Mason with an MA in History in 2003, spoke with former students who remember waiting to be transported to school by a refurbished truck, while the brand-new “white” school bus would pass them by. Some of the one-room schoolhouses were associated with and funded by churches in the community.

Working with the Buckingham Training School Commemoration Inc. and the Buckingham County Afro American Life and History Society, Slade-Martin and her cocurator of the exhibit, Wendi Manuel-Scott, plan to submit the information they collect into a museum planned for the county. “We wanted to capture this very important history, and at the same time assist this community in achieving a larger goal.”

The exhibit will move to Buckingham County on Feb. 20, when a panel of African American scholars and community leaders will discuss the impact of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Slade-Martin notes the project would not have been possible without grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, which assisted in the project’s first phase of development.

For Slade-Martin, the stories told by the citizens of Buckingham County are the most powerful part of the exhibit, and she hopes their voices can reach out to Mason students.

“To hear those voices is to know that those people were just amazing, and quite courageous. It’s important to emphasize that so many members of this community worked tirelessly within and outside the system to ensure that their children and their future children would receive an education,” says Slade-Martin. “We hope to pass this legacy on to young people in the community and throughout the state, so that they understand the dynamics and the difficulty of desegregating these schools, and how that applies to their broader sense of Virginia.”

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