When I started kindergarten in Fairfax County in 1974, only six years had passed since the U.S. Supreme Court finally ended state-sponsored segregation of Virginia’s public schools.
1968’s Green et al. v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia was the last vestige of Massive Resistance—the formal, government-sanctioned opposition to public school integration led by Virginia Senator Harry Byrd that swept across the American South in the wake of the landmark 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education.
Although in 1955 the Supreme Court ruled that schools should be integrated with “all deliberate speed,” it took Virginia another 13 years to do so.
Aided and abetted by the state government, many counties in Virginia, most notably Prince Edward County, closed their public schools rather than integrate them. In 1959, the all-white county board sold the school system’s buildings and equipment for $1 to local business leaders who had established a new, all-white private academy. The Academy’s trustees depended on state-funded tuition vouchers that fueled the private “segregation academies” across the Commonwealth until the Supreme Court outlawed this funding in 1969.
In the 1970s as I began school, backlash against federally-mandated integration was very much apparent. For example, white students burned crosses at schools attended by Black students, including in nearby Alexandria; in Winchester, where I would later teach, local officials had to call in state police to quell a race riot at the high school.
Everything Old Is New Again
Virginians who think about it longer than a nanosecond will feel a strange sense of deja vu when they hear Glenn Youngkin stoking racial unrest at his rallies. At a rally in Leesburg—one of the last places in America to desegregate its public schools in the late 1960s—Youngkin intoned, “Our curriculum has gone haywire. So on day one, we are going to ban teaching critical race theory in our schools.”
When Glenn Youngkin talks about “banning critical race theory,” what he really means is that we should not be teaching about state-sponsored racism in Virginia, past or present. Never mind that many of our Black students’ parents and grandparents experienced segregated schools firsthand, or that the lack of educational opportunity for Virginia’s Black students has had life-altering and multigenerational consequences.
And it’s not an accident that while he is fanning racial fears, he is also peddling privatization and vouchers. It could be 1959 in Farmville, Virginia.
Candidates like Glenn Youngkin are cynically manipulating voters in what some are calling “the New Massive Resistance”—and Virginia is Ground Zero.
It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I support Terry McAuliffe. After all, I am running for School Board as the endorsed candidate of the Arlington Democrats—but that does not mean that I believe Democrats have always cornered the market on great education policy and investment.
I am also running as a product of Virginia’s public education system—the one afforded to white students—from kindergarten through graduate school. I love my state, but that does not mean I have to disavow the painful parts of its past and present.
Finally, I am a lifelong advocate for public education. And that doesn’t mean ignoring the system’s flaws; it means tirelessly committing to making it better because I believe our students and our democracy depend upon it.
If you believe that, too, and if you believe Virginia deserves a more ambitious and inclusive and hopeful future than the one being peddled by Glenn Youngkin, I hope you’ll join me in voting for Terry McAuliffe next week.
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