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A Dream Deferred: Integrated Education In America

ISSUE:  Winter 2004

I have chosen to begin my first issue as editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review with a special portfolio of work on a subject dear to my predecessor: integrated education. Staige D. Blackford first made a name for himself in March 1952 when, as a graduating senior and editor of the University of Virginia’s student newspaper the Cavalier Daily, he penned an editorial arguing in favor of integrating the University. He wrote: “We do not believe that a man’s intellectual ability is determined by the color of his skin. We do not believe an aristocracy of intellect is composed of one race. We believe the essence of a democratic educational system to consist in allowing unseparated opportunities for all men regardless of their race, color, or creed.”

Blackford did not stop at mere ideology. From 1962 to 1964 he worked as the director of research for the important civil rights organization the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta. At the end of that turbulent decade Blackford was tapped to become press secretary and speechwriter for Governor A. Linwood Holton, the leader who would finally bring an end to Virginia’s “massive resistance” to integration. Blackford was shaving at his in-laws’ on Christmas morning 1969, just days before Holton’s inauguration, when it suddenly dawned on him that the new governor would take his oath on the steps of the old capitol of the Confederacy. He quickly revised Holton’s speech to quote from Lincoln’s second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” This combination of the immediate and the historical was typical of Blackford’s vision—a vision I hope to honor and continue in future issues of VQR.

As we approach May 2004, the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, we are honored to have Toni Morrison begin this portfolio with her personal recollections and imaginings of the first days of integration, and to have Julian Bond interview Oliver W. Hill about his role on the Brown legal team. We hope these pieces pay due tribute to those who went before. However, the struggle to integrate public schools and state universities is hardly a historical artifact. These five decades later, the debate continues in today’s headlines. Susan E. Eaton examines the problem of de facto desegregation in contemporary northern schools, and Roger Wilkins and Mary Zwiep offer opposing opinions of the recent Supreme Court rulings on the admissions standards at the University of Michigan. These pieces, collectively and individually, are bound to spark discussion and controversy. They are meant to.

My only regret is that Staige isn’t here to participate in this lively debate. I know he would have enjoyed it.

—Ted Genoways


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