I grew up in Virginia with the painful knowledge that my elementary school was one of the many public schools that closed rather than integrate after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. The state is now offering compensation to people whose schooling was interrupted during that period. Scholarship recipients, who are usually in their mid-60s, get “anywhere from $300 to $10,000 a year for courses of their choosing.” Since 2004, the state has awarded the scholarships to about 70 people, according to the Washington Post. A significant number of these people were, however, white. And the scholarship program says that it wants to do outreach to encourage more white people to apply.
“Both black and white students lost an opportunity because of the state’s decision, and both deserve this aid,” said Brenda Edwards, who administers the scholarships. “White people hear Brown v. Board, and they think they’re not eligible. We’re trying to change that perception…We want more people to get the education they missed out on years ago.”
This news inspired a variety of reactions, from incredulity to downright anger. Some wondered whether the beneficiaries of the grants came from families that defied the integration order. Others pointed out that while students of all races, particularly white students in poorer areas, faced educational barriers during the upheaval of “massive resistance,” it’s unquestionably true that black students were most disadvantaged.
Over at the Root, a blogger points out that giving grants to white students as well as black students is an illustration of the fact that while “it may appear that black people are the only ones who are hurt when racism and fear motivate policy decisions, but in the long term, all Americans suffer.”
As someone who attended Virginia public school for more than ten years, however, I find that analysis to be too optimistic. Virginia is still a state with enormous racial tension and inequity, where only last year, the governor thought it was appropriate to declare April “Confederate History Month.” While it’s fair to say that many people’s educational opportunities were disrupted by massive resistance, regardless of their race, these grants should be going to the people who were most adversely affected by the refusal to integrate schools.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.