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Farmville calls itself the Heart of
That advertising’s a bit false.
heartbeat pounds there, as well. And our country’s conscience, too.
down Farmville's Main Street are a treat throughout the tear, and
allow participants an outlet for civic-spirited exuberance.
is a pulse of nation-shaping muscular idealism in Farmville’s history,
especially in education, unlike any other town in the nation.
The belief that all men are created
equal rang like a liberty bell, without cracking, in Farmville; or if it
did crack it kept ringing anyway. And that women are equal, too.
Black and white.
Every color in between.
The civil rights movement was born in
Farmville. And Virginia’s first institution of higher learning for women
— now known as Longwood University — was opened there, too.
annual Jaycees Christmas Parade gives Santa Claus a chance to
visit Farmville, to the delight of children of all ages.
Farmville looks like a quintessential slice of America — a
riverside town established in 1798 because the current meant commerce and
currency (until the railroad meant more) — it is. But not in a way that
Norman Rockwell ever dreamt of painting.
Beyond the lovely tree-lined avenues and
a main street any American would recognize, a chapter of the nation’s
autobiography was written with all the hope, strength and faith that
forged, through America’s struggle to wake up and live toward its
idealist dreams, a country worth dying for.
When Neil Armstrong declared on the
surface of the moon in 1969 that he had taken “one small step for man,
one giant leap for mankind,” he was merely following in footsteps
already taken in the town of Farmville by citizens of Prince Edward
down Farmville's Main Street are a treat throughout the year, and
allow paritcipants an outlet for civic-spirited exuberance.
Like the current of the Appomattox
River, which separates Farmville’s Prince Edward residents from those
who live on the other side of the river in Cumberland, the ripples of
history continue flowing from that seminal moment on April 23, 1951, when
the American civil rights movement was born in Farmville. Black students
at R. R. Moton High School went on strike to protest separate and unequal
conditions that included tar paper shacks for classrooms. On that day,
mankind in the U.S.A. began leaning forward in anticipation of the leap to
More than four years before Rosa Parks
refused to move to the back of an Alabama bus, teenagers in Farmville
peacefully and emphatically expressed their belief in words Thomas
Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence. Yes, all men are
the Heart of Virginia Festival makes you look twice, as these
young celebrants can attest.
By the end of that week 53 years ago,
those students and their families made a conscious decision to challenge
segregation itself. And so those small steps on a spring day in Farmville
became a giant leap toward the historic Brown v. Board of Education United
States Supreme Court decision in 1954 that toppled segregation in
America’s public schools.
Prince Edward, thus Virginia, became
joined with four other U.S. jurisdictions to comprise the legal case and
final decision that began to utterly transform the face of America, and
the nation’s soul.
Words that had been written by our
country’s Founding Fathers, vowels and consonants carved in marble and
stone, set in monuments and statues, were given arms and legs and a heart
and lungs by young Americans in a Farmville school. “Freedom” and
“equality” received muscle and sinew and marched from Farmville out in
all directions through America’s conscience and its heart of heartlands.
a big event in Farmville, the first day of school sees many
teachers and school staff members easing students' transition from
summer to school days.
Visit Farmville today and many of the
buildings could bear witness to American history that, with the retreat of
Confederate General Robert E. Lee through Farmville to Appomattox, led to
the end of the Civil War and, with the strike at R. R. Moton High School,
cradled the civil rights movement.
Today, the town has a vibrant and
welcoming retail business community — everyone has heard of Green Front
Furniture — yet is uniquely centered between five state parks that offer
abundant outdoor recreation a few moments down the road. There is always
something happening — concerts by the Appomattox River on First Fridays
during the summer and classic movies shown outside on the big screen, for
Longwood University is the geographic
center of the town — its museum-quality center for the visual arts is at
the literal center of downtown — and, in many ways, is the economic
engine of the community, the single-largest employer and its student body
contributes greatly to retail sales, which set and break records every
But Longwood also has that legacy of
educational history-making. It was in 1884 that it became the
Commonwealth’s first institution of higher learning for women. And six
miles south of Farmville — also contributing to the unique pioneering
educational synergy of the community — Hampden-Sydney College was
founded a year before Thomas Jefferson’s words about equality were
penned and approved for the declaration that became America’s birth
The former R. R. Moton High School,
meanwhile, has become a museum for the study of civil rights in education,
a national historic landmark that also anchors a civil rights trail
through more than a dozen Southside Virginia localities, many of whom also
share the Lee’s Retreat self-guided driving tour.
The nation has been celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Brown decision this year, but far fewer people know
that 2004 is also the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Griffin v.
Prince Edward decision, which re-opened Prince Edward schools that had
been closed to avoid integration. The Griffin decision continues to have a
far greater impact on every American family than the dust-framed
footprints of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the airless, suffocating
surface of the moon.
The Griffin decision breathes in every
American community on every single day, guaranteeing the right of every
American child to a public education. A public education, in fact, is a
constitutional right thanks solely to the triumphant perseverance of the
late Rev. L. Francis Griffin, who ministered to his flock at First Baptist
Church through the civil rights struggle and helped change a world that
appears in the darkness of space as an oasis of blue and brown, ornamented
by white clouds. A planet where the course of history can be changed by
children on a day in the springtime when life is new and rivers, like the
Appomattox, flow, rain-filled, with greater momentum toward a sea that
will somehow be incomplete without it.
One doesn’t have to be an astronaut to
know Earth periodically eclipses the moon, even its dark side, and there
is, however briefly, no shining reflection of the sun. A dark side of the
greatest nation on the planet was eclipsed by teenagers in Farmville over
half a century ago. The light that shone from their belief in what America
professed to be its founding ideals, when America didn’t believe in
itself, still illuminates this nation.
From sea to shining sea.
Come see for yourself.
The author, Ken
Woodley, is editor of The Farmville Herald.