my book review: Prince Edward and school segregation @BetsyDeVos


There was a time in 1959 that hell broke loose in Virginia when Prince Edward public schools were replaced by "all white" academies and for almost five years the non-white children or poor children had no school or a place to study. For some kids, you might think they'd jump for joy... but when you are told you cannot study or learn, it makes you REALLY want to... (I was told I would not go to college, and man oh man, did I ever decide I WOULD get a college degree. ie, my BFA in 1978 and the school loans it took me years to pay off.)

A young boy's life-and that of the Southern town he lives in-is dramatically changed over the course of a single historic summer in this unforgettable novel

In August of 1959, Benjamin Rome is ten years old, and his hometown of Farmville, in Prince Edward County, Virginia, is immersed in a frenzy of activity. The Supreme Court has ordered the state to desegregate its public schools; on the heels of the failed "massive resistance" movement, the county has instead voted to close them. With only a few weeks in which to establish a private, whites-only system, most of Ben's family is involved in the effort: his grandfather, Daddy Cary, has the ringleaders making speeches at his sixty-fifth birthday party; his father and his older brother "borrow" Farmville High's lights for the new football field; his mother volunteers at the library book drive.

Come September, the Negro children will have no schools to attend, and that includes Ben's close friend Burghardt, the son of the hired hand who works on Daddy Cary's farm. Ben has always known that the lives of Negroes and whites are separated by a "color line," but none of what he has known seems to make sense anymore. When events lead to an explosive climax, Ben finds himself facing choices beyond his years; it will be a long time before he begins to understand all he learns that summer-  one of the hottest on record, and, for him, the longest and most important.

AUTHOR Dennis McFarland evokes, with his customary art and compassion, a wrenching chapter in our nation's history.
This troubling book is based on real events in 1959 when faced with court ordered school desegregation, Prince Edward County, Virginia, decided to close all of its schools and set up a whites-only private system. The story is told through the eyes of ten-year-old Ben who lives on his family's chicken farm.

I finished this book yesterday and just sat there silent, ready to cry. I cannot say I enjoyed this story of embedded racism in Ben's family, or in my own family. I don't have any answers on how to combat racism but this book is a very good start, and a conversation we need to have in 2017.

PS: I had read that the new Education Secretary Betsey DeVos is in favor of segregation and private academies. I find it disgusting and dangerous but not a surprise... Doesn't history repeat itself and come in waves?


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