Acknowledging a past mistake

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Kudos to the Virginia House of Delegates Rules Committee for having the courage to acknowledge a past wrong and attempt to make amends.

The committee endorsed a resolution Tuesday expressing &uot;profound regret&uot; over the 1959 closing of Prince Edward County public schools to avoid desegregation.

The Massive Resistance Movement shut down Prince Edward County schools for five years, denying an education to more than 2,300 black children, until it was finally ended by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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It was a sorry chapter in Virginia history, but nonetheless it’s important that the state publicly acknowledge that the movement was wrong if it ever hopes to fully put it behind us.

Del. Viola Baskerville, D-Richmond, said she proposed the resolution to promote racial healing in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering the desegregation of the nation’s &uot;inherently unequal&uot; schools.

Oliver Hill, a 95-year-old Richmond civil rights attorney who was involved in the Brown case, urged the committee to send the resolution to the House floor. Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond, read a statement to the panel from Hill, who attended the meeting but is blind and uses a wheelchair.

&uot;It is most appropriate that all citizens, black and white, become familiar with the benefits of racial equality and the decision the state of Virginia made supporting the Massive Resistance movement so that we may create a more enlightened society,&uot; Hill wrote.

It would have been easy for delegates to reject the measure, dismissing it as merely dredging up the past. That they did not shows how far our state has advanced over the past 40 years on the question of racial equality.