I received notice through the Coming to the Table network that on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, an historical marker will be unveiled in Front Royal, Virginia marking a significant event in school desegregation. The father of my CTTT friend Betty Kilby Baldwin won a federal lawsuit in 1958 that ended school segregation for his children and other black students. Betty’s brother James will be one of the keynote speakers at the ceremony. Several black pupils from the Warren County High School senior class of 1959 will also be present.
The inscription on the marker reads:
Warren County High School, a Public Works Administration project, was constructed in 1940. In 1958, the local NAACP chapter, led by James W. Kilby, won a federal suit against the Warren County School Board to admit African Americans for the first time. In response, Gov. James Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered it closed in Sept. 1958, the first school in Virginia shut down under the state’s Massive Resistance strategy. After the 1959 Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that Massive Resistance was unconstitutional, a U.S. Circuit Court ordered it reopened. On 18 Feb. 1959, 23 African American students walked up this hill and integrated the school.
Most people are familiar with the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that ended legal segregation nationally in 1954. I suspect most people don’t know about the many, many similar efforts–like Mr. Kilby’s–that were made throughout the United States in an attempt to make the equality that was promised in our Constitution a reality for all our citizens.
Read more here about the events in Front Royal and the challenges the Kilbys and other black families faced as the white people in charge did all they could to avoid complying with the law.
Several members of Coming to the Table have joined the Kilbys and others in trying to convince the powers-that-be in Front Royal of the importance of recognizing this important milestone in the community’s history. I’m proud to know members of the Kilby family and am glad that the residents and visitors of Front Royal–and especially school children–will now have access to this information in a prominent public place at the local middle school.
Thank you, James W. Kilby. America is in your debt.
UPDATE: a television news reports from the dedication ceremony can be seen here . A truly healing event…