When buses did not roll on the first day of school in 1959, my brothers, Samuel, Freddie, and I did not want to believe it. I was entering the 10th grade, Samuel the 11th, and Freddie the eighth. We thought this closing was some kind of a power play on the part of the Board of Supervisors in Prince Edward County, Va. It was a show of authority, we thought, to frustrate the efforts of the Supreme Court order to desegregate county schools “with all deliberate speed” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).
Being naïve and not “schooled” well in the ways of southern segregationists, we assumed schools would reopen in a few days. We were happy, then, to have an extended summer vacation. The first day, however, turned into days, the days into weeks, the weeks into months, and eventually the months into years — five to be exact. A cruel reality dawned on us during this time: we, along with countless other black students in the county, were losing the opportunity for a public education, a right guaranteed by the Virginia Constitution to all school-aged citizens, regardless of race or class.