Research Programs: Faculty Research Awards

Period of Performance

7/1/2008 - 6/30/2009

Funding Totals

$50,400.00 (approved)
$50,400.00 (awarded)

The Struggle Over School Desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia, 1959-1964

FAIN: HR-50410-08

Christopher Jay Bonastia
Lehman College Library (Bronx, NY 10468)

This project examines the struggle over school desegregation in Prince Edward County (PEC), Virginia. From 1959 to 1964, this rural, "Black Belt" county avoided court orders to desegregate its public schools by closing them, becoming the only school district in the nation to do so for an extended period. Most white students enrolled in segregated, private academies, while nearly two-thirds of the 1500 black students in the county did not attend school during this time. I assess why PEC, alone among American localities, traveled down this destructive path for five years as human costs multiplied. In doing so, I examine factors such as the paternalistic nature of Virginia politics, the perseverance displayed by the black community in the face of limited power, and the rhetorical justifications employed by the county's segregationist leadership. In addition, I consider the school closings in the context of other responses to the threat of desegregation, such as "white flight."

Associated Products

Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia (Book)
Title: Southern Stalemate: Five Years without Public Education in Prince Edward County, Virginia
Author: Christopher Bonastia
Abstract: In 1959, Virginia’s Prince Edward County closed its public schools rather than obey a court order to desegregate. For five years, black children were left to fend for themselves while the courts decided if the county could continue to deny its citizens public education. Investigating this remarkable and nearly forgotten story of local, state, and federal political confrontation, Christopher Bonastia recounts the test of wills that pitted resolute African Americans against equally steadfast white segregationists in a battle over the future of public education in America. Beginning in 1951 when black high school students protested unequal facilities and continuing through the return of whites to public schools in the 1970s and 1980s, Bonastia describes the struggle over education during the civil rights era and the human suffering that came with it, as well as the inspiring determination of black residents to see justice served. Artfully exploring the lessons of the Prince Edward saga, Southern Stalemate unearths new insights about the evolution of modern conservatism and the politics of race in America.
Year: 2012
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Press site for book.
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Worldcat entry for book.
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780226063898