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Students Denied Schooling in Desegregation Fight Get Virginia Scholarships

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At a time in her life when most people are planning for retirement, Rita Moseley is going back to college.

The principal’s secretary at Prince Edward County High School in Virginia soon expects to receive a state scholarship that will pay her costs for earning a business degree.

The scholarship is part of a $2 million effort to compensate Ms. Moseley, 57, and other African-Americans who were denied portions of their K-12 education when some Virginia schools resisted desegregation orders in the 1950s and 1960s by closing their doors.

Ms. Moseley said that the scholarship won’t completely make up for the five years, starting in 1959, that Prince Edward County schools shut down rather than comply with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U. S. Supreme Court.

“It can never, ever make up for it,” she said. “It’s a wound and hurt inside me that will always be.”

“But it’s a big first step,” she added.

Almost 100 others in the community have applied for the scholarships and are in the process of receiving approval from the state, said Ken Woodley, the editor of the Farmville Herald, the county’s largest newspaper, and a leader of the effort to establish the scholarships.

The state legislature created the scholarships last year and financed them with $1 million. Philanthropist John Kluge matched that with another $1 million. Supporters estimate that 2,000 African-Americans qualify for the scholarships, most of whom lived in Prince Edward County when the public schools were closed from 1959 until 1964.

Ms. Moseley, who was 12 in 1959, missed two years of school and then moved to Blacksburg, Va., to attend school as part of a program organized by the American Friends Service Committee.

She eventually returned when the Prince Edward schools reopened, and she graduated a few years later. But, already 20 when she finished high school, she never attended college.

Her lack of a bachelor’s degree has hampered her 20-year career in the school system, Ms. Moseley said. With an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, for example, she would earn a higher salary in her current position, she said. With a graduate degree, she could have been qualified for her dream job as a guidance counselor.

Now, however, she hopes a business degree will give her the education she needs to open her own business in graphic design.

Vol. 24, Issue 40, Page 16

Published in Print: June 15, 2005, as Back to Class

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