With Washington DC still “closed,” we had to revise our trip itinerary. We now have no more Civil Rights sites to visit, so some of my writing will be reflecting on things I’m still thinking about. The intensity of the experience of visiting all the places we’ve been is a bit like Robert Frost’s poem, “After Apple Picking.” Even though I’m no longer in the historical places, I continue to dwell on what it felt like to be there, and I continue to wonder about things that I learned.
Today I’ve been thinking about the people who closed the schools of Prince Edward County, VA for five years. I’ve been thinking about the depth of racism that was behind their actions. I’ve been thinking about the fact that they only opened the schools when they were forced to do so by a US Supreme Court ruling. Mostly I’ve been wondering what became of the beliefs, attitudes, commitment, and – yes – evil that these people embodied. Did it just vanish in an instant when they opened the schools? Clearly not. Did it gradually dissipate as they got older and had time to think about things? Maybe. We did find a commemorative plaque in front of the Prince Edward County Courthouse that provides some evidence for this:
The phrase, “…with sorrow for closing schools” gives me some hope that they did, in fact, realize the error of their ways.
Or did they maintain their attitudes, nurturing them and passing them along to their children and grandchildren? Is this racism still alive and breathing, although in hiding, generally, and out of power? It’s very difficult to tell. I have seen no evidence of racism in the people I’ve met. I talked with older, Southern white people who have clearly supported the Civil Rights Movement. But that is no proof of the absence of the old beliefs.
And so, I continue to wonder, and hope.