Sunday, May 16, 2004

Recollections of the desegregation of Lynchburg schools

The Lynchburg paper has this article ("All deliberate speed," 5/16/04) on the desegregation of the public schools in the Lynchburg area. The article indicates that the first black students were admitted to E.C. Glass High School in 1962, as the result of a lawsuit against the City filed in the W.D. Va., and the various subsequent rulings of Judge Merhige from Richmond, who came west to inspect the schools in Lynchburg and neighboring counties.

The article includes this recollection of the role of Judge Merhige:

"He went to (Central) [in Amherst County]," Mangum said, "and found that some of the doors were locked. When he demanded that they be opened, he found that the ceilings were caving in. In the typing room, all but one of the typewriters were manual."

After Merhige toured the comparatively luxurious (and white) Amherst County High School, Mangum recalled, "he went into the superintendent's office, lit up a cigar, and said: 'I’m not waiting until I get back to Richmond to make my decision.' Then, he read them the riot act."

Merhige (who, Mangum said, always traveled with two federal marshals) was more perplexed by the situation in Lynchburg. After ordering busing to achieve racial balance in 1970, he learned that the Lynchburg School District had no buses. Students either walked to city schools or used public transit.

"I can’t order them to buy buses," he said.

Nevertheless, by 1971, the City of Lynchburg had gone from 31 schools to 19 and from zero buses to 300.

"All deliberate speed" had finally gained momentum.

No comments: