Half a century after many Virginia public schools shut their doors rather than accept black students, the state is offering college scholarships to compensate those whose education suffered in the era of “massive resistance” to desegregation. Among the recipients: white students.
Since 2004, about 70 people have won the scholarships, including a handful of white Virginians whose schooling was disrupted in the late 1950s and early 1960s. A precise count of white scholarship recipients was unavailable, but the total is thought to be fewer than 10. Officials who oversee the state program say they want to spread the word to more white students who might be eligible.
Phyllis Archer, 57, a scholarship recipient who is black, said the push to include white students in the program is misguided. “This was the state’s chance to apologize for wrongdoing, not to award people who have never known racism,” Archer said.
June Jeffrey, 69, is also a scholarship recipient. She is a real estate agent who is studying English at Lord Fairfax Community College in Warrenton and is white.
In 1958, four years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling that found school segregation unconstitutional, Jeffrey’s high school in Warren County closed its doors.
While black students left the county or attended loosely organized classes in living rooms and church basements, Jeffrey’s school reestablished itself as the Warren County Education Foundation School, which enrolled only white students. It held classes in buildings across town, keeping the same teachers and paying them partly with public funds.
When a federal court ruled in February 1959 that Warren County schools must integrate, Jeffrey and most of her classmates remained at the all-white foundation school. But she said they lost access to facilities, counseling and the trappings of a traditional high school experience.
“We missed having a real senior year,” Jeffrey recalled. “We just wanted to finish up with our friends.”
Jeffrey detailed those experiences when she applied for the scholarship years later.
“I was just hoping that they wouldn’t ask me for a photo,” she said. She was never sure whether white students qualified.
Not only do they qualify, she later learned, but officials are traveling the state to inform residents — including white residents — of their eligibility. Former students whose public schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County or Warren County closed in the late ’50s and early ’60s are eligible.
The effort to recruit white applicants has reopened wounds from Virginia’s painful racial history.