Formation and County Seats
Prince Edward County, Virginia was formed in the Virginia Colony in 1754 from Amelia County. It was named for Prince Edward, second son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and younger brother of George III of the United Kingdom.
In the 1850s, the Southside Railroad between Petersburg and Lynchburg was built through Farmville between Burkeville and Pamplin City. The route, which was subsidized by a contribution from Farmville, required an expensive crossing of the Appomattox River slightly downstream which became known as the High Bridge.
The Southside Railroad was heavily damaged during the American Civil War. The High Bridge played a key role during Confederate General Robert E. Lee's final retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox Courthouse, where the surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant took place in April, 1865.
After the Civil War, under the leadership of former Confederate General William "Billy" Mahone, the Southside Railroad was rebuilt, and in 1870, was combined with the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad to form Mahone's Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad (AM&O), which stretched 400 miles across the southern tier of Virginia from Norfolk on Hampton Roads to Bristol. After the Financial Panic of 1873, the AM&O fell into default on its debt, and was purchased in the early 1880s by new owners who renamed it the Norfolk and Western (N&W). In 1982, it became part of the current Norfolk Southern Railway system. Due to the high cost of maintaining the High Bridge over the Appomattox River, the line through Farmville was downgraded and eventually abandoned, in favor of the Farmville Belt Line, which had been built on a more direct line between Burkeville and Pamplin City as had originally been envisioned in the planning for the Southside Railroad.
Another railroad formerly served Farmville. In the late 19th century, the narrow gauge Farmville and Powhatan Railroad was built from Farmville through Cumberland County, Powhatan County, and Chesterfield County to reach Bermuda Hundred on the navigable portion of the James River near its confluence with the Appomattox River at City Point. It was later renamed the Tidewater and Western Railroad, but was dismantled in the early 20th century.
Prince Edward County is the source of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a case incorporated into Brown v. Board of Education which ultimately resulted in the desegregation of public schools in the U.S. Among the five cases decided under Brown, it was the only one initiated by students themselves, after they walked out in 1951 to protest overcrowding and poor conditions at their separate school under Jim Crow laws.
The all-black R.R. Moton High School, named after Robert Russa Moton, a noted educator from neighboring Amelia County, did not have a gymnasium, cafeteria, or teachers' restrooms. Due to overcrowding, three plywood buildings had been erected and some students had to take classes in an immobile school bus parked outside. Teachers and students did not have desks or blackboards, The school's requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board. On Monday, April 23, 1951, Barbara Johns, the sixteen-year-old niece of Reverend Vernon Johns, led students who staged a walkout protesting the conditions. The NAACP took up their case, however, only when the students—by a one vote margin—agreed to seek an integrated school rather than improved conditions at their black school. Then, Howard University-trained attorneys Spotswood W. Robinson and Oliver Hill filed suit.
In Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a state court rejected the suit, agreeing with defense attorney T. Justin Moore that Virginia was vigorously equalizing black and white schools. The state verdict was appealed to the U.S. District Court, which ruled for the plaintiffs, a decision the school district and the state appealed. Subsequently, it was one of five incorporated into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case which in 1954 overturned school segregation in the United States.
In 1956, the Virginia General Assembly passed a series of laws (the Stanley plan) to implement Massive Resistance, a policy promoted by the Byrd Organization led by former Virginia governor and U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court decision in Brown.
One of the new Massive Resistance laws created a program of "tuition grants" which could be given to students so they could attend a private school of their choice. In practice, this meant state support of all-white schools that appeared as a response to forced integration. These newly formed schools became known as the "segregation academies".
As a result of the Brown decision, and changes in Virginia laws, in 1959 the Board of Supervisors for Prince Edward County refused to appropriate any funds at all for the County School Board, effectively closing all public schools rather than integrate them. Prince Edward County Public Schools remained closed for five years. Prince Edward County was the only school district in the country to resort to such extreme measures.
During the interruption in access to Prince Edward County's public schools, the Prince Edward Foundation was created. It founded a series of private schools to educate only the county's white children. These schools were supported by the tuition grants from the state and tax credits from the county. Collectively they became known as "Prince Edward Academy", one of Virginia's "segregation academies". Prince Edward Academy operated as the de facto school system and enrolled K-12 students at a number of facilities throughout the county.
From 1959 to 1964, black students in Prince Edward County had to go to school elsewhere or forgo their education altogether. Some got schooling by living with relatives in nearby communities or at makeshift schools the community created in church basements. Others were educated out of state with funds raised by groups such as the Society of Friends. In the final year (1963–1964), the NAACP-sponsored Prince Edward Free School picked up some of the slack by educating some of the black youth who had been unable to leave the county to attend public schools elsewhere.
In 1963, federal courts ordered the public schools to open; Prince Edward County then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court, ruling in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, agreed in May 1964 in a 9-0 ruling, deciding in a unanimous decision that Prince Edward County's move violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, county and state supervisors gave in rather than risk prosecution and prison, ending the era of Massive Resistance in Virginia.
The same summer, following the Griffith ruling, 16 students from Queens College (New York) ventured south to Prince Edward County during their “Student Help Project” Program, a precursor to the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. The students served as teachers to the many African-American children who had been denied an education. The summer school program was taught by these volunteers in order to prepare the students for when the schools reopened that fall. Many of the students spent the summers in the homes of many prominent Prince Edward African-Americans using local churches as school houses during the week. Many of the students involved in the program have since donated their archives to the Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives.
However, some pupils, as a result of Prince Edward County's actions, missed part or all of their education for five years. This group has been called the "Lost Generation" of Prince Edward County's youth.
Private education since 1964
Even after the re-opening of the public schools, Prince Edward Academy remained segregated. Many of the segregation academies in Virginia eventually closed; others changed their missions and eliminated discriminatory policies. Some yielded on integration only after the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) revoked the tax-free status of non-profit discriminatory private schools. Prince Edward Academy was one of the latter and lost its tax-exempt status in 1978. In 1986, the school began to accept all students regardless of race or ethnicity. It was renamed the Fuqua School in 1992.
Robert Russa Moton Museum
The former R.R. Moton High School building in Farmville has been recognized as a nationally significant community landmark. In 1998, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. It now houses the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a center for the study of civil rights in education.