You are here

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A Documentary Account of the Struggle for School Desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia
Edited by Brian J. Daugherity and Brian Grogan

BUY Cloth · 302 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942711 · $59.50 · May 2019
BUY Paper · 302 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942728 · $29.50 · May 2019
BUY Ebook · 302 pp. · ISBN 9780813942735 · $59.50 · May 2019

In the twentieth-century struggle for racial equality, there was perhaps no setting more fraught and contentious than the public schools of the American south. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1951, a student strike for better school facilities became part of the NAACP legal campaign for school desegregation. That step ultimately brought this rural, agricultural county to the Supreme Court of the United States as one of five consolidated cases in the historic 1954 ruling, Brown v. Board of Education. Unique among those cases, Prince Edward County took the extreme stance of closing its public school system entirely rather than comply with the desegregation ruling of the Court. The schools were closed for five years, from 1959 to 1964, until the Supreme Court ruling in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County ordered the restoration of public education in the county.

This historical anthology brings together court cases, government documents, personal and scholarly writings, speeches, and journalism to represent the diverse voices and viewpoints of the battle in Prince Edward County for—and against—educational equality. Providing historical context and contemporary analysis, this book offers a new perspective of a largely overlooked episode and seeks to help place the struggle for public education in Prince Edward County into its proper place in the civil rights era.


"There is no other volume that looks in detail at a particular place in the civil rights struggle as this one does, and certainly no comparable volume for Virginia, much less Prince Edward County. The authors have placed Prince Edward County in context and provided an excellent array of documents. The book will find a wide range of readers who want to hear voices of this period, as it brings these firsthand accounts into dialogue with one another and with the reader. Reading these documents, we are struck by the very human decisions taken on all sides of the conflict and the very real consequences of those decisions as well."

William G. Thomas III, University of Nebraska, author of The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America

At last. As the tragedy of Prince Edward County becomes more widely known, the hunger for understanding grows. This peerless collection of primary sources provides the illumination we need. Giving voice to all sides, it enables twenty-first century readers to take inspiration from the teenage democracy warriors who struck for decent high school and to discover that the segregationists who shut down the public school system invoked taxes, constitutional liberties, and the New Deal along with white supremacy in self-justification. At a time when school teachers are turning to strikes to ensure adequate educations for their students, while race and class motives remain fused in specious interpretations of the Constitution on the political right, this collection is an educators’ dream: a chance to teach the contemporary debate by exploring its surprising roots in a contest whose reverberations shaped the country.

Nancy MacLean, Duke University, author of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America

Before federal immigration policy jeopardized child welfare with mass detentions and family separations, the school crisis in Farmville, Virginia, during the 1950s was an origin for present-day austerity politics. Brian J. Daugherity and Brian Grogan have compiled a timely document collection that captures the inception of modern conservatism in rural America, set during the civil rights struggle’s modern phase and white supremacist resistance.

Journal of Southern History

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books