Vera Morton graduates today from Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke. So will 783 others, but her story deserves special attention: She’s one of the students who were locked out of school during Massive Resistance when some Virginia localities shut down their schools rather than allow even a single Black child to sit in a classroom with a white child.
Morton was from Prince Edward County, whose schools were shut down the longest – from 1959 to 1964. She’s now 67 and just now able to graduate from college. Morton was able to attend school today thanks to a scholarship program that Virginia set up in 2004 to pay for the belated education of those who were denied the opportunity earlier. Lisa Vernon Sparks told Morton’s story in an article for Cardinal News that published Thursday; I’m here today to tell you, as Paul Harvey might say, the rest of the story.
Here’s the main thing to know: This program is going to run out of students before it runs out of money.
The scholarship program began with $1,050,000 from the state and then a $1 million donation from Charlottesville philanthropist John Kluge. That’s $2,050,000. Then came $19,402.82 in other donations. Add in interest and you eventually get to $2,293,842.72 in available funds. Over the course of the program, the state has awarded $1,299,163.63 in scholarship funds. (All this data comes from the Division of Legislative Services, by the way.) That leaves $994,679.09. That number may come down some, as any lingering bills from the recent semester trickle in, according to Lily Jones of the Division of Legislative Services. But it won’t come down that much.
So only a little more than half of the initial fund has been spent.
Now here’s the thing: The number of students taking advantage of these funds goes down almost every year. Actuarial tables are like that, I’m afraid. This year Morton is one of just two students receiving funds from the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship, as it’s called. The other was at Liberty University.
Right now, there’s no one on the book to receive scholarship funds for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year.
Here’s how the numbers have changed through the years:
2005-2006: 38 students
2006-2007: 33 students
2007-2008: 27 students
2008-2009: 27 students
2009-2010: 16 students
2010-2011: 24 students
2011-2012: 23 students
2012-2013: 19 students
2013-2014: 14 students
2014-2015: 14 students
2015-2016: 12 students
2016-2017: 8 students
2017-2018: 4 students
2018-2019: 5 students
2019-2020: 4 students
2020-2021: 3 students
2021-2022: 2 students
The clock is ticking.
In all, the program has served 88 students (keep in mind that school lasts multiple years, so you can’t add up all the numbers above). That’s obviously just a fraction of the students who were denied education during the Massive Resistance years – Charlottesville, Norfolk, Prince Edward County and Warren County all closed their schools for a time, Prince Edward the longest. Some Arlington students are also eligible because the state cut funding to that county when it decided to integrate. Not surprisingly, most of the students awarded these scholarships have come from Prince Edward, Jones says.
If you’re curious, these are the schools those students have attended (some attended multiple institutions):
Southside Virginia: 21 students
J. Sergeant Reynolds: 13 students
John Tyler: 3 students
Piedmont Virginia : 3 students
Tidewater: 3 students
Lord Fairfax: 1 student
Northern Virginia: 1 student
Virginia Western: 1 student
St. Paul’s College: 31 students
Liberty University: 14 students
Old Dominion University: 8 students
Virginia Commonwealth University: 4 students
Averett University: 3 students
University of Lynchburg: 2 students
Mary Baldwin University: 2 students
Virginia State University: 2 students
Hampton University: 1 student
Longwood University: 1 student
Marymount University: 1 student
Norfolk State University: 1 student
Regent University: 1 student
University of Richmond: 1 student
University of Virginia: 1 student
Virginia Union: 1 student
Alas, St. Paul’s has since closed.
And then one student earned a GED through the Charlotte Adult Learning Center.
By law, these scholarships must be used at Virginia schools, so anyone who has moved out of state is out of luck.
Taken together, this list of schools – weighted in the central and southern parts of the state – is the modern-day geographic effect of what has to be called systemic racism. That’s a phrase that’s often misunderstood – and often debated – but when a county shuts down a school system rather than educate a Black student, that seems the way to describe it. There seems no way to debate that.
Soon, though, Virginia will have to debate what to do with the unused funds, because there will surely be unused funds. Each year, the state advertises the program – so it’s possible there will be some recipients for the fall semester – but realistically, at some point, the eligible students will run out. What then?
The General Assembly will have to decide what to do with that leftover money. Here’s a suggestion: It should change the law to make these funds available to the children and grandchildren of those who were denied education.
Why? you might ask. They weren’t locked out of schools. Why should they benefit?
My answer: We know that the effects of racism – like the effects of many other things – can be generational. Imagine a student from Prince Edward denied education in the early 1960s. Had the schools stayed open, maybe they’d have graduated, maybe they’d have gone to college. But that student didn’t. Their children began at a different place in life than those who were more fortunate – and they began at that different place not simply through bad luck (which is hard to legislate against) but through the direct actions of the government at the time. This would be the way for the state to recognize that.
When the scholarship fund was founded, Mark Warner was governor. No other state had ever done anything like this. He said “this program will help us move beyond the past and on to a more productive future.” One of the legislative sponsors – state Sen. Benjamin Lambert, D-Richmond – said: “These scholarships will help Virginia heal the wounds caused by Massive Resistance and offer educational opportunities for those who were wrongly denied access to a quality education.” So far, they have helped heal 88 wounds but many other wounds remain, whether we see them clearly or not. We have not moved beyond the past as much as we might like. As William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” In this case, Virginia’s past is not completely past for some of those whose parents and grandparents were unjustly held back.
What’s the other option? For the state to pocket this money and spend it on who knows what? Here’s a chance to rededicate those funds to something that matches their original – and noble – purpose.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin today delivers the graduation speech at Virginia Tech. It’s not too late for him to insert a sentence into his remarks declaring his support for this idea.