The new Prince Edward County flag. From left: Board of Supervisors Chair, Odessa H. Pride, E. Harrison Jones, Supervisor, District 1 (Farmville), and Douglas P. Stanley, County Administrator. Courtesy of Prince Edward County.
The new Prince Edward County flag. From left: Board of Supervisors Chair, Odessa H. Pride, E. Harrison Jones, Supervisor, District 1 (Farmville), and Douglas P. Stanley, County Administrator. Courtesy of Prince Edward County.

A new flag flies over the newly renovated front lawn of the Prince Edward County courthouse, one that acknowledges an ugly chapter in the state’s history. The revised county seal now includes an image of the former Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, which is considered the birthplace of America’s student-led Civil Rights revolution.

In 1951, at the height of the segregation of public schools in Virginia, a group of students led by then-16-year-old Barbara Rose Johns staged a walkout in protest of inadequate and unsafe school conditions. The NAACP took up their case after the students agreed to seek an integrated school rather than improved conditions at their Black school, setting the stage for the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education, which found establishing racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. 

Last month, more than 70 years after the walkout, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an amendment to add the former school – now a national landmark and home of the Moton Museum – to the official county seal.

“The board’s decision cements the heritage of Prince Edward County,” County Administrator Doug Stanley said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Once we did that, we had our new flag made with the updated seal, and that new flag is now flying over the courthouse.”

The original county seal, which was adopted by the Board of Supervisors 20 years ago, was created in anticipation of the county’s 250th anniversary in 2004. It was designed by county resident and artist Richard C. McClintock, who is well-known for his interest in local history and architecture. In designing the original seal, McClintock incorporated images that depict both the past and the present of Prince Edward County. 

Two decades later, he also assisted the county with this recent design update. At the center of the new seal is an abundant sheaf of wheat, representing the importance of agriculture in the county’s history. The stylized image of the wheat was borrowed from neighboring Amelia County’s seal, and thus serves also as a reminder that Prince Edward County was formed from Amelia County in 1754.

The domed structure directly to the left of the sheaf of wheat is the Rotunda at Longwood University. Just below the Rotunda is the cupola (bell tower) that rests atop the Prince Edward County Courthouse, constructed in 1939. The former Robert Russa Moton High School is directly below the wheat on the newly adopted seal. Constructed in 1939, Moton was the all-black high school in Prince Edward County. 

Prior to its amendment, the county seal included the Old Prince Edward County Clerk’s Office at Worsham, the third to serve the county and a relic of the period when the settlement of Worsham was the county seat, which was moved to Farmville in 1874.

“Our seal and flag are symbols of pride,” Board Chair Odessa H. Pride said in a statement. “Prince Edward County is so very blessed with this rich heritage that embraces both agriculture and education. Our community is also proud and enlightened by the historic role the students at R.R. Moton High School had in ending public school segregation in the United States. The amendment to the county seal was an overdue opportunity for the Board to commemorate the importance of civil rights in education in the County’s history.”

Today, the Moton Museum houses exhibits containing Moton High School memorabilia, artifacts of the Civil Rights movement, and oral histories of former teachers and students who recall their experiences of the student walkout and the school closings. 

The museum also serves as a Center for the Study of Civil Rights in Education, providing programs to explore the history of desegregation in education and to promote dialogue about community relations. It is also an anchor site of the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail, which contains 41 sites across southside Virginia that depict the broadening of educational opportunities.

Cameron Patterson, the museum’s executive director, on Wednesday applauded the update of the county seal. 

“I think it’s a powerful statement about the county’s support of the museum and the work that we have done together and will continue to do to strengthen our community,” Patterson said in a phone interview. The museum has as of late been part of a number of efforts seeking to create statewide understanding about Prince Edwards County civil rights history, but also nationally with its National Parks affiliation and its work to become a UNESCO World Heritage site, Patterson said. 

“So for the county to make this public statement is a great show of support, especially since it’s no secret that this county, in particular the Board of Supervisors, has not always been on the better side of history as it relates to the closing of our schools, and this shows how far we have come,” Patterson said. 

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.