This story was originally published in UVA Today.
Editor’s note: Even an institution as historic as the University of Virginia has stories yet to be told. Some are inspiring, while the truths of others are painful, but necessary for a fuller accounting of the past. As Baptist minister and former Southern Christian Leadership Council leader Fred Shuttlesworth once said, “If you don’t tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be.”
The president’s commissions on Slavery and on the University in the Age of Segregation were established to find and tell those stories.
“UVA and the History of Race” – a joint project of UVA Today, the president’s commissions, and faculty members and researchers – presents some of them, written by those who did the research. The project reflects UVA’s educational mission and the commission’s charge to educate, and to support the institution as a living laboratory of learning
This story is the final installment in the series. Find all of the stories at UVA Today.
In the summer of 1955, Farmville High School Principal James H. Bash spoke at a public meeting of Virginia parents, teachers and school administrators, who had gathered to oppose the desegregation of the Prince Edward County Public Schools. After raising a series of questions in his prepared remarks about how a county private school system for whites would function, he told the nearly all-white crowd, “I am a public school man and I cannot take any salary from any organization designed to circumvent the ruling of the [U.S.] Supreme Court.”1
In that moment, the fate of Bash and his family changed forever. With his public opposition to “massive resistance,” they were ostracized in the small, close-knit community. Within weeks, Bash stepped down as principal and returned to graduate school at his beloved alma mater, the University of Virginia, devoting the rest of his career to seeking equal education for all.
Bash experienced firsthand how efforts to desegregate public schools, in Prince Edward County and throughout Virginia, were painful and slow in the 1950s. In spite of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling2 by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 that declared racially separate public schools unequal, and its Brown II directive a year later for states to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed,” massive resistance gripped the commonwealth.
The City of Charlottesville also maintained racially separate public schools for Black and white students until the fall of 1958, when Virginia Gov. J. Lindsay Almond, a Charlottesville native who earned a UVA law degree, ordered Venable Elementary and Lane High schools closed and “removed from the public school system,”3 rather than allow Black and white students to attend school together.4 Finally, in 1959, school desegregation began peacefully when 12 African American children – who became known as “The Charlottesville Twelve”5 – were the first students to transfer from their all-Black schools to attend Venable and Lane. The overwhelming majority of Black students, however, continued to attend the nearby all-Black Jefferson Elementary and Jackson P. Burley High schools. Across town, the University of Virginia remained open only to white men through the early 1960s.
As the civil rights movement gained momentum throughout the South, the federal government yielded to political pressures to support desegregation in K-12 public schools and colleges. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act that included the Title IV provision to provide technical assistance and funding for states to achieve public school integration.
Title IV authorized the creation of 27 national education sites to carry out this work. The mission of these sites – known as Consultative Resource Centers, or CRCs – was to support state and local schools on a district-by-district basis during the challenging transition of desegregating K-12 public schools. The center’s goal was to address four key areas: new curriculum development, best practices in school administration, teacher training, and the coaching of school and community counselors in fair and effective student discipline procedures.
The Curry School of Education received a CRC grant in 1967. The “Deseg Center,” as it came to be called on Grounds, occupied numerous sites, from Peabody Hall and the current site of Madison House to an office on Ivy Road. Its mission was to provide customized technical assistance and in-service training for administrators, teachers and K-12 school staffs in Virginia and the region. It closed quietly in 1981.
Three School of Education faculty members were central to the CRC’s creation, development and outreach efforts: Bash, the former Farmville High principal; Nathan E. Johnson; and Howard W. Allen. Bash was the key architect who wrote the first CRC grant; he credited support from the Phi Delta Kappa Commission on Education, Human Rights and Responsibilities as crucial to his success with initial grant writing and funding.
Bash directed the center for its first four years and hired School of Education colleague Nathan Edward Johnson as the first CRC associate director. Johnson became the first African American faculty member at the University in 1967, after a distinguished career as a public school teacher and administrator in Virginia’s Black schools. He joined the school faculty after completing his doctoral studies at the University, supported by a Southern Education Foundation Fellowship. Johnson House at Hereford College on Grounds bears his name today, to acknowledge his scholarly influence and leadership during the era.
Johnson introduced Bash to Howard “Hank” Webster Allen, who joined the center’s team as a full-time staff specialist in 1969. When Bash stepped down as director in 1971, Curry Dean Ralph Cherry managed the center until appointing Allen as its director in 1973. Allen led the CRC staff until the center closed in 1981, when the federal government instead funded a regional gender equity center at American University in Washington, D.C.
Allen, like Johnson, had a noteworthy career in Black school communities before coming to Charlottesville to complete his educational doctorate. Both Johnson and Allen acknowledged their gratitude to Virginia State University professor Walter Ridley – the first African American to earn a doctorate at UVA and first to receive a degree from a predominantly white university in the South – for paving their way to earn advanced degrees in the School of Education.6
The Deseg Center’s curriculum, based on the CRC Human Relations Model, was designed to teach participants new interpersonal skills for cross-racial understanding, despite their personal differences and prejudices.7 Over a four-year period, Bash wrote or co-wrote five monographs that the Deseg Center staff delivered personally to local school districts across the region. With these materials, teachers and school personnel participated in small-group discussions and activities, received individual coaching and gained feedback on developing strategies to deal with teaching Black and white students together in newly desegregated schools.
From the start, gaining access to most local school personnel was challenging. Many districts did not welcome this federally sponsored initiative into their schools, fueled by the pro-segregation climate in counties that promoted “educational choice” as a tool for massive resistance. The Deseg Center staff relied heavily on invitations from school division superintendents to visit local sites and to conduct training workshops within its schools.
After gaining access, center staff distributed materials personally during visits to schools and district offices; monographs were also sent to other CRC library sites around the country.8 Again, Phi Delta Kappa was a valuable resource, advertising the monographs in The Kappan, its flagship journal.9 By 1971, the University of Virginia began publishing some CRC materials, including a paper that Bash co-wrote with Nathan Johnson on human relations, as one of a series of educational papers authored by UVA faculty.10
Over the next few years, the Deseg Center added a small stream of UVA graduate students to its staff, who provided logistical, research and/or counseling support. Allen supervised a series of CRC newsletters that were sent periodically to key stakeholders across the commonwealth to spread the word of activities and progress.11
Yet, the Deseg Center struggled to reach many schools, as resistance to change took many forms. The Jim Crow policies of racial segregation remained a part of daily life, especially in rural areas. In the early years, for example, Bash and Johnson planned their business travel carefully. They were mindful of their safety, because a Black and white professional team driving on Virginia back roads or dining together in public spaces could draw unwanted scrutiny and discourage local school personnel from engaging with them. Interviews with CRC staff document a well-crafted approach to maneuvering the de-facto segregation policies that prevailed throughout the region.
In a February 1973 speech to center directors at the University of Pittsburgh’s Consultative Resource Center, Bash expressed the slow pace of change in schools and admonished his colleagues to “quit avoiding the issues and difficulties of intergroup relations and get on with bringing our ‘doing up to our knowing.’” Allen, often the most outspoken of the trio, described their constant challenges:
“You have Black people in the South, and white people in the South who very seldom communicated with each other. The only time they communicated was when they were working, Black people working for the white folks. ... There wasn’t a whole lot of respect and all.” Allen continued, highlighting the difficulty of the project: “And so, now, we’re going to desegregate the schools ... bring all these kids together. ... Now we’ve got to do a job to get them to understand what this desegregation process entails.”12
During Allen’s tenure as center director from 1973 to 1981, the CRC cast a wider net to provide services for school systems in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, in addition to the commonwealth. Johnson continued as the CRC associate director until his death in 1980, and Bash remained an active CRC supporter, as he taught graduate courses in school administration and supervision, and advised students across the School of Education.
Throughout the 1970s, the Deseg Center team traveled year-round from UVA to community sites and conducted annual summer institutes, much like the one where Allen met Johnson and Bash. Armed with updated materials and insights from other CRCs, the team presented best practices to school administrators, facilitated teacher workshops and re-trained counselors in fair and effective discipline procedures.
Johnson’s quiet influence and mediation skills were tested many times in the early years, when school district doors were literally slammed in faces of center directors for their pro-integration stance. Bash often credited Johnson with being the center’s moral compass, who kept its mission to achieve a quality education for all students front and center.
At the same time, Allen was one of a small, yet active, group of Black CRC leaders nationally who created informational pipelines that flowed from rural and urban school districts, through the centers, to the federal government (and back). By the late 1970s, a tight network of Black school administrators also emerged from the CRC meetings, buoyed by their involvement in working together on Title IV technical assistance teams.
The new, clandestine communication channels that Black educators formed nationally through their involvement with the consultative centers were very important; this communication helped to restore some of the social networks that Black teachers, administrators and parents lost when racially segregated neighborhood schools closed in response to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Especially in the South, many Black educators on a local and national level were eager to find new ways to maintain their professional ties and regain their collective agency, as some now taught in predominantly white school settings where they were in the racial minority.13
The passage in 1972 of Title IX legislation outlawing gender discrimination in schools created a new set of challenges for the Deseg Center. The federal government’s decision to direct the CRCs to investigate gender bias complaints in local schools, as well as continuing to monitor racial inequities, strained center resources and operations. In its last year, the Curry Deseg Center staff served more than 90 school districts and nearly 1,000 educators, providing workshops, technical assistance and training, most often in Virginia and West Virginia.
Yet, the numbers masked the tensions and contradictions that existed at the time within the center, at the University and among the school districts about the Deseg Center’s impact and how to measure its progress.14 Some CRC staff viewed the center’s effectiveness as mixed at best, and felt it remained isolated and invisible at UVA. To this day, many who were in the School of Education at the time do not recall the center’s existence on Grounds or its programs, because the work did not take place within the school’s Ruffner Hall home (now known as Ridley Hall), nor always on University sites. Each center director also expressed frustration with many school district officials throughout the region who ignored numerous invitations from CRC staff to visit sites, conduct teacher workshops, or use the free professional development materials based on the booklets. At the same time, other CRC staff pointed to the climate of massive resistance in local communities, and the slow pace of change that prevented them from gaining access to schools and promoting their work.
Still, the Consultative Resource Center for School Desegregation at UVA highlights past obstacles and opportunities to create and sustain educational reform in an oppositional climate. What also emerged from this era were the voices of the University’s Black undergraduate students, who were ready to push for the visible change that eluded their elders, using more vocal and direct means of protest.
Patrice Preston Grimes is Associate Professor Emerita of the UVA School of Education & Human Development. She also previously served as Associate Dean in the UVA Office of African-American Affairs. Her research focuses on the 20th-century history of African-American schooling in the South before mandated desegregation, and how educational history can inform current schooling policy and practice.
1. See Kristen Green’s account of the meeting organized by the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties in “Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle.” (New York: Harper Collins, 2015).
4. “Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance” chronicles these events throughout the commonwealth, including the struggle to reopen schools in Norfolk, Prince Edward County and Warren County (Charlottesville, UVA Center for Politics, 2009)
5. Nine students entered Venable Elementary in the fall of 1959: Charles E. Alexander, Raymond Dixon, Regina Dixon, Maurice Henry, Marvin Townsend, William Townsend, Sandra Wicks, Roland T. Woodfolk and Ronald E. Woodfolk; three students entered Lane High: French Jackson, Donald Martin and John Martin. (Charlottesville Daily Progress, Nov 20, 2011, A1).
7. The J.P. Dean, A. Rosen & R.B. Johnson, “A Manual for Intergroup Relations.” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955). At that time, desegregation was broadly defined as “the process by which intergroup practices are changes in an institution or organization.” (p.105)
13. For a detailed account of the transition of Black teachers to predominantly white schools in one Southern state, see Vanessa Siddle Walker’s “The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in School,” The New Press, 2018.