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A mission to a mad county: Black determination, white resistance and educational crisis in Prince Edward County, Virginia

Jill L Ogline, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation explores the high water mark of southern resistance to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education: the five-year abolition of public education in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Through interrogating the "culture of civility" that guided this bureaucratic, legalistic strategy of defiance, it argues that both massive resistance and the unique trajectory of events in Prince Edward County are not the anomalies in Virginia history that state boosters suggest, but rather logically consistent outgrowths of a coherent political tradition known as "the Virginia Way." When blacks chose to step outside of the traditional channels of "managed race relations," white Virginians struck back in a manner consistent with their determination to maintain white supremacy without condoning a rise in vigilantism that might have threatened elites' control over the mechanisms of political power. It highlights the important role played by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in bolstering community institutions, lobbying for federal intervention in the crisis, serving the educational and social needs of the out-of-school children, and building the capacity of local community members to take on leadership roles in the struggle. It characterizes the Friends' work as providing the institutional framework for indigenous protest. By following the trajectory of AFSC involvement in the county, it weaves together the diverse narratives of massive resistance, community organizing and school desegregation into one multi-faceted struggle to control the terms of the future. Ultimately, however, the study explores the long-range consequences of abandoning, starving, or compromising public education. In tracing the Prince Edward story up to the present, it reveals the flimsiness of the safeguards guaranteed to keep private education accessible, the difficulty of reconstructing a gutted public system, and the multi-generational psychological, social, and economic impact of educational deprivation. It demonstrates the centrality of equal educational opportunities to every phase of the local freedom struggle, challenging the assumption that the school desegregation phase of the civil rights movement passed into history after 1960 without sparking sustained community campaigns for change or significantly contributing to the development of local cultures of protest.

Subject Area

Black history|American history|Education history

Recommended Citation

Ogline, Jill L, "A mission to a mad county: Black determination, white resistance and educational crisis in Prince Edward County, Virginia" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3275745.