New Kent School

New Kent School, New Kent Highway, New Kent, Virginia

New Kent School, New Kent Highway, New Kent, Virginia

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New Kent School

A short distance from New Kent County Courthouse in Virginia is New Kent School.  This small building was constructed in 1930. It served as a combined elementary and high school. However, this small Georgian Revival structure, along with its neighbor, the George W. Watkins School, played an important role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Before the landmark case of Brown v Board of Education ended segregation in the country’s education system, George Watkins was the New Kent County’s African American-only high school, while New Kent School was the high school for whites.

Brown v. Board of Education overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine, but it was not specific on remedies that educational systems had to take to remove discrimination. In 1955, the year after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in what became known as Brown II that desegregation was to occur at “all deliberate speed”, which many interpreted to allow active resistance. Many school systems made changes which allowed them to avoid the most blatant appearance of discrimination, but which achieved only token amounts of integration.

As a result of these cases, the New Kent County School System implemented a system of freedom of choice in 1967, through which students were given a choice to either attend New Kent School or George Watkins School. The plan resulted in some African Americans attending New Kent but no whites attending Watkins. It should be noted here that at this time the population of New Kent County was split almost equally between white and African American.

What is also important to note here is not only the deliberate way by which the Board of Supervisors got around the full integration of the school system but also the time it took to implement their plan. This attempt to avoid the full integration of the school system occurred a whole 12 years after Brown II.

New Kent School, New Kent Highway, New Kent, Virginia

New Kent School, New Kent Highway, New Kent, Virginia

– Click on the image to enlarge or purchase –

In 1968, the case of Green v. County School Board of New Kent County came before the US Supreme Court. While the Court did not rule that “freedom of choice” plans were always unconstitutional, it did note that they tended to be ineffective at desegregating a school system, and held that in New Kent County’s case the freedom-of-choice plan violated the Constitution. It was from this case that the strategy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia called Massive Resistance to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation came to an end. Full integration of the education system, although taking a number of years, was at last achieved.

Summary
New Kent School
Article Name
New Kent School
Description
New Kent School in Virginia and its neighbor, the George W. Watkins School, played an important role in the civil rights movement in the 1960s
Author
Publisher Name
Mark Summerfield
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