Yolanda Gladden when the schools shut down

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Brown vs Board of Education integrated all schools, but one district decided to close instead

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Civil Rights Movement, Topics | 1 comment

When the Public Schools Shut Down, Yolanda Gladden Kept Learning

We know the more famous stories of the responses to the Brown vs Board of Education ruling that ended school segregation, like Ruby Bridges in Louisiana and the Little Rock Nine in Arkansas. But did you know that one county in Virginia saw the order to desegregate and decided to instead close the schools? When The Schools Shut Down: A Young Girl’s Story of Virginia’s “Lost Generation” and the Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka Decision by Yolanda Gladden and Dr Tamara Pizzoli tells a story of what happened when one school district had strong opinions about being forced to integrate.

School privatization has a longstanding history of being rooted in racism, and Prince Edward County in Virginia decided to go all out and they closed the entire school district for five years. White children went to private schools, and Black children were left to fend for themselves if they wanted an education. Determined to provide education to their children anyway, the Black community of Prince Edward county held classes in church basements and wherever they could to ensure their children had a quality academic experience.  After the Supreme Court ruled that Prince Edward County’s actions were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the public schools reopened and were officially integrated. 

When The Schools Shut Down is told by one of the students of what Virginia refers to as “the lost generation” of students, who were excluded from the Virginia education system with the shut down. Yolanda Gladden recalled how her friends and family made the best of a horrible situation by learning the history of African American people in history and developing pride in her heritage. 

See also: The First Step

Themes 

Hatred is Not History – it is Astonishingly Recent

When schools were forced to integrate, an entire county decided to “stick it to the man” and shut down the entire school district and privatize education in protest. The white community was provided with all the resources they needed to continue their education at the same quality they were accustomed, but the Black children and those who could not afford private education suffered. From 1959-1964, Black children were denied public education.

It was powerful to realize that my parents were both alive when this happened. This was not that long ago. We have to know our history so we can be better for the next generation.  

Conversations

One of the reasons I insist on reading biographies and stories like Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre or George Takei’s memoirs about being held captive in Japanese interment camps are to teach my children about all the stories of Americans that make up our country’s history.  

When we got to the end of the book and they realized that Yolanda Gladden was a real person who lived this experience, my kids started to understand how choices made in hate effect other people. My kids were homeschooled briefly and they know that a lot of learning can happen at home, but the oldest is in public school now and loves it. He was horrified at the concept of some people not being allowed to go to school just because of their skin color.  

We also reviewed the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and how the lawyer who argued in defense of Brown (and won) was Thurgood Marshall, who eventually became the first Black Supreme Court Justice. 

Age Level

Both of my kids (second grade and preschool) understood the concepts of this story, but the book is solidly elementary level.  

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