- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 3, 2005

RICHMOND — For Rita Moseley’s mother, survival as a black woman in 1950s Virginia put higher education out of reach.

“She was offered the opportunity to go to college, but she told me she needed to work to help her family,” says Miss Moseley, 58, now a principal’s secretary for Prince Edward County schools. “Now I have the opportunity. … I’m going to take advantage of it.”

Miss Moseley is among 66 Virginians selected to get up to $5,500 in the first round of Brown v. Board of Education scholarships — an attempt by the state to square things with those denied an education when local officials shut classrooms rather than integrate public schools.

“The effort of our scholarship committee is to try to compensate for the wrongs that were committed,” says state Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert III, Richmond Democrat who co-sponsored legislation to create the program last year.

Officials have about $2 million to distribute in multiple rounds. Recipients must be Virginia residents and able to prove they were denied an education between 1954 and 1964 because of “Massive Resistance,” Virginia’s answer to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling outlawing school segregation.

The closings came as education officials channeled funds to exclusively white private schools, barring black students and whites who couldn’t afford the segregated academies. Affected were schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County in the south-central part of the state and Warren County in the north.

Officials think thousands of students were affected across the state, and scholarship applications continue to pour in from people now in their 50s and 60s. Each overcame an interrupted education with varying degrees of success.

“Some of them have done very well and furthered their education, some of them have not,” says Gwen Foley, senior operations staff assistant with the Division of Legislative Services.

Carl Eggleston, 54, was among the lucky ones.

Despite missing roughly two years before the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the schools reopened in 1964, Mr. Eggleston went on to graduate in 1969 and earned an associate’s degree in applied science from a community college in Chester.

A well-known black businessman in Farmville, he has since become the owner of two thriving funeral homes.

Yet the classroom time he lost haunts him.

Mr. Eggleston was heading for the third grade at Mary E. Branch Elementary School in Farmville when he first heard talk of schools closing in June 1959. Local children shrugged it off.

“We did basically what we did every summer, just relaxed and played,” he says. “We thought it was just a rumor.”

But Miss Moseley knew it was more than hearsay. She lived next to a school in Farmville.

“I believed it when they put the chains on the door,” says Miss Moseley, then a high-achieving pre-teen. “I had to look at that every day.”

When black parents, flustered by the lockout, began sending students away to be educated, Miss Moseley crossed her fingers and prayed.

She would eventually be shipped off to live with two older women — complete strangers — in the mountain town of Blacksburg, where schools weren’t closed.

Mr. Eggleston’s parents finally were forced to get out of Farmville, at least temporarily, and live part-time in neighboring Cumberland County, qualifying their son to attend classes there.

Both Mr. Eggleston and Miss Moseley struggled when they returned to Farmville in the early ‘60s. He grappled with retaining new material; she thought lost in classes designed to catch students up in a hurry.

“You didn’t have a whole semester of anything,” Miss Moseley says. “I was probably in the 11th grade before I felt really comfortable where I was.”

Miss Moseley, like Mr. Eggleston, eventually graduated.

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