Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Something Must Be Done

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Kristen Green set out to understand what happened in the place she grew up – Prince Edward County, Virginia – between 1959 and 1964, when the county closed every single one of its public schools instead of integrating under court order. ‘Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County’: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle is a mash-up of history and memoir chronicling what Kristen learned about her hometown community, including – painfully and personally – those closest to her. 

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On Monday, February 20th, the Robert Penn Warren Center (featured in yesterday’s post) and the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center co-sponsor Kristen’s Nashville presentation on Something Must Be Done

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The public schools would remain shut for five years, depriving hundreds of black children – and some white children – of an education. Students were sent to live with family, even strangers, in other counties, and even other states so they could attend school. Some children worked in the tobacco fields with their parents to help support their families. Many would never again return to a classroom.

It was a story Kristen knew little about as a child. She spent an idyllic childhood in Farmville, swimming with her three brothers in her parents’ pool and being doted on by loving grandparents. All her neighbors, teachers, and classmates were white. She had virtually no contact with blacks in her community, other than her family’s longtime housekeeper, Elsie Lancaster. She was completely unaware of the impact the school closures had had on black children, including Elsie’s daughter.

When Kristen decided to write about what had happened in her hometown, she used her journalistic skills to peel back the layers of the community’s complicated and shameful history. The result is the story of how Barbara Johns, a young, female student led a protest of the conditions at her black high school, resulting in a lawsuit that would ultimately become part of Brown v. Board of Education.

It is the story of a landmark Supreme Court case, and a white Board of Supervisors that voted to close schools rather than allow their children to attend class with black kids. And it is a story of how the affected children, their parents, and the entire community, would forever be changed. (See website for more.)

The New York Times and Washington Post both praised Something Must Be Done in favorable reviews, though other reviewers have been a touch less generous not about the story it tells but the manner in which it is told. “Something doesn’t always flow easily,” writes Entertainment Weekly.  The Guardian concurs (“In prose that is not always as lively as the story she tells, Green chronicles her own family’s complicity in their local battles.”) That being said, Something Must Be Done was a New York Times bestseller in race and civil rights and in education, and it was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

Kristen Green is an award-winning journalist, and her presentation in Nashville this Monday, February 20th, promises to be compelling.  Details below…

‘Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County’: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle

Monday, February 20, 2017, 4:10 PM

Location: Vanderbilt University, Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center • Nashville, TN

See website for details
Free and Open to the Public
A reception will follow the program

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9 Comments

  1. Sounds fascinating– just the kind of social history I love. Wish I were in Nashville to hear her speak!

  2. Lived in the joining county at the time,Nottaway,and knew the lawyer , Segar Gravitt,who defended Prince Edward and he was a distinguished UVA graduate and brilliant attorney.
    Nottoway combined three high schools; Luther Foster, Nottoway High, and Crew High. Three distinct groups which had nothing in common. Was quite a struggle as some of the teachers were not qualified.
    Nevertheless we prodded on and succeeded despite of the circumstances. We were one of the few Caucasian families that sent our high school age children to the new integrated high school. A new segregated school was established immediately in Nottoway and is still in existence. Our oldest daughter spent one year in the new Nottoway and went on to UVA early. Second daughter had a tumultuous year as president of the student body ,and went on to graduate from the new Nottoway. She recently retired in Virginia as an MD. Older daughter a prominent attorney in Nashville with Bass-Berry.
    My old boss at the time said not to worry, “the cream always rises to the top.”
    It was indeed a tragedy for Prince Edward.
    It was indeed a tumultuous time in all of Southside Va..My wife is a graduate of Longwood and was the librarian at the new Nottoway High.
    “”

    • Thank you so much for being in touch, Thomas, and sharing your experience with me and other Bacon readers. I’ve got two daughters in high school right now, and I can only imagine adding that layer to their experience. I know things aren’t perfect now but I am thankful for progress. Truly, thank you so much for sharing your story. It makes the whole Bacon project feel worthwhile when people comment. Xo

      • Your father-in-law is a classmate of my Wife’s at GHS and a dear friend of ours. We grew up in Gallatin and share many of the same memories. I was a Captain during the Korean war but fortunately never got further than Arizona. Bill certainly has multiple gifts in the arts, an excellent writer in addition to being an artist. Small town Gallatin( 3,500 in the late 30’s) was such a wonderful place to spend our formative years.
        We have one grandson in a Nashville magnet school. Was in Ensworth but transferred two years ago.

  3. Glad to hear that Vandy is hosting Green and discussing this era again. Reminds me of Dennis McFarland’s 2005 novel, PRINCE EDWARD, also worth reading

  4. I hope to attend the event at VB. I lived in Farmville (Prince Edward County), VA, for my early elementary years and have read Kristen’s book.

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