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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Rebecca Clayton, December 8, 1988. Interview K-0132. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of school closures on a teacher in training

Clayton describes how public schools were closed in Prince Edward County, Virgnia, during her years spent at Longwood College. The school closures were the result of African American demands for integration following the <cite>Brown</cite> decision and led to the establishment of private academies. For Clayton, a teacher in training, the controversy was particularly influential in helping her to form more tolerant views of school integration.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Rebecca Clayton, December 8, 1988. Interview K-0132. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

REBECCA CLAYTON:
After I graduated from high school I went to Longwood College. And Longwood is in Farmville, Virginia. And Farmville is located, or is the town seat for Prince Edward County, Virginia and that was part of the Brown versus the Board of Education suit. Of course when I was graduating in '58, that decision had already been made. The black students in Prince Edward County went on strike because their school was so bad. The conditions in their school were so bad. I think the facility itself was just, from what I had read, was just in real poor condition. So they went on strike. As I said, the Brown versus the Board of Education said that you had to have, that they could attend the white schools. But in Prince Edward County, and this happened probably when I was maybe in my sophomore or junior year, they closed the public schools entirely. It's the only place I've known where the public schools were entirely closed. And the students went to school in church basements, in factories, wherever they could find extra room. People from all across the nation sent books and supplies and things like that in there for them to use. When you went to Sunday School on Sunday morning and you had books lined up all along the side of the room. Or if you wanted to have your church dinners like you'd been having in the past, you couldn't because you had so much extra stuff piled in the room that was being used by the schools. By the time I left, I believe Prince Edward Academy opened which was a private academy. Now they tried to get some of the people in that area to pay taxes to go to the private academy even though they were not providing a public school. Now people who really knew what was going on balked at that and would not do that.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
When did all this happen?
REBECCA CLAYTON:
This happened—I went to college, September of 1958. I graduated in June of 1962. So the schools, I believe the public schools were still closed when I left in June of 1962. And I'm not sure when the public school reopened because I did my student teaching in Roanoke, Virginia, which was one of the places students from Longwood went anyway to student teach. A number of people stayed. If you were an officer on campus, or if you were involved in some activities on campus, you stayed on campus to student teach. And you student taught in Prince Edward County so that you could take care of the all the activities that you were involved in. But because the schools were closed in Prince Edward County, those students had to drive to outlying counties every day to student teach. They also had to open up new facilities for the student teaching because in the past you went to Richmond and Roanoke. When they closed the public schools in Prince Edward County, they had to go to Danville, Richmond and Roanoke to student teach. So I mean it was a real inconvenience I'm sure for the college and for some of the students too when that happened.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
What impression did all of that that was happening in Prince Edward, what impact did that have on you as a budding teacher to be?
REBECCA CLAYTON:
Well I hope it made me more tolerant. I hope it made me more aware of how people felt and how you would interact. And try and be more aware of people's feelings, I would think. I don't really know. Well I think it certainly gave me a rich background to talk about my experiences there. And discuss whether this was right or wrong in lots of cases with that.
ANGELA HORNSBY:
And what did you conclude in terms of—?
REBECCA CLAYTON:
Well, I mean some of this stuff is just a waste when you spend as much time and energy in something like that. When you could've been moving ahead all the time. Because as I said, I don't know when the public school reopened, but in all cases wherever these academies have been built for the most part they've all disappeared and they've all gone back to public schools. People are going and working together. The nation is diversified. Your workforce, wherever you go, is diversified. And people really need to learn how to get along with each other and be aware of the differences. That's an education in itself right there. For you to know how people from different countries react, what their feelings, customs are and look at how many of these things you people join together and use together anyway. It's just takes up a lot of time and energy that's not necessary with that. Longwood is now, when I went there it was just for females—now it's co-ed and it's diversified. They've got people from everywhere now. It could've easily been done earlier. I think most people just—I can't imagine to many of them being—it surprised me when I run across people who seem to be have real strong feelings about other people and negative feelings about other people. Because I think, "Well how in the world can that be?" You wish them a lot of energy on that.