Anne Holton, the wife of the Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, has been out on the campaign trail in her own right. As a former secretary of education in the state (a position, different from state chief, that serves as an adviser to the governor), she has been an education ambassador for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Holton says her interest in public education began when she and her siblings helped desegregate schools in Richmond, Va., in the 1970s as part of a push by her father, then-Gov. A. Linwood Holton, a Republican, to change race relations in the state.
Education Week Assistant Editor Alyson Klein recently spoke with Anne Holton. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Talk about your experiences as a child, attending integrated schools as the governor’s daughter.
It was an important time for me and all my siblings in our lives. I was 12 years old. We had just moved into the governor’s mansion in January of that year , and Dad had declared in his inaugural address that he wanted to make Virginia a model of race relations. Obviously, as a Southern governor at that time, that was a departure from the role other Southern governors had [taken on]. Just six, seven months later, the courts issued their orders that we were [already] following when we went to the school that we went to. We went to formerly all-African-American schools, and they stayed mostly all-African-American, frankly, in those years because so many of the [white] folks that were assigned there found other alternatives.
It was a memorable, it was a great experience. On the one hand, it was being part of history. We did get a lot of attention. There was a very famous picture of my Dad taking my sister to the high school. My mother took my brother and me to the middle school, and we didn’t get quite as much attention, and we laughed about it at the time. But we all understood as a family that we were having an opportunity to be part of something larger than ourselves. We got letters from around the world from people supportive of it. There were [also] protests outside the mansion. There was plenty of opposition, but we heard more of the positive. As a 12-year-old to have an opportunity to be part of something larger than yourself, that advances the ball for the world, was a very special opportunity.
Going to school, the experience part was more like being any other 12-year-old. You know, [you’ve] got the math homework, and how’s our basketball team going to do. And you know, making friends. I will say it was my first experience—I was from a very comfortable middle-class background—being with people who came from a much-different economic background. It was absolutely my first experience being with a lot of people of color. But learning the similarities and differences, it was a fascinating time for all of us.
Were you able to make friends? Did you notice inequities between the school you’d attended before and your new school?
I don’t remember the inequities between the schools. I was 12, I may not have noticed. But I do remember [other] inequities. One of my very close friends lived in a housing project, and when she would come over to play with me at the mansion, that was a different experience than when I went to play with her at her house. I remember a lot of our friends at school really valued that hot school lunch that we had growing up. We’d always kind of turned our noses up at that, the school lunch food. So I was real aware of the economic differences.
You sent your own children to those same integrated schools in Richmond. What was their experience like? How did it compare with yours?
Our kids got a great education. ... They all went on to great colleges and were well-prepared for their great colleges. They also got life experiences that kids that went to more homogeneous school districts did not get.
Resegregation is obviously an issue that’s popped up nationally. What do you think that a potential Clinton/Kaine administration could do to help schools become more integrated across the country?
Well, I think the first step is acknowledging the problem. ... I do think there’s been some progress in some communities. One of the ironies for me in my area is the Richmond city schools that we helped to integrate are probably not much more integrated now than they were then. ... But some of our surrounding county schools now have robust diverse communities. ... The data certainly shows that across the nation, we are, if not all the way back, close to all the way back to where we were before desegregation, which is just very painful. And so the first thing is calling it out. And yes, I think there is a federal role, starting with the bully pulpit. ... I also think there is a federal role if you put it in the larger context of equity issues: How are we going to address larger equity issues, both in school and out?
Can you talk a little more about what kinds of concrete steps a Clinton/Kaine administration might take on that?
I’m very excited about that. First of all, the larger economy proposals that Hillary has laid out will have an absolute direct impact on schools. ... If we raise the minimum wage, that’s huge; we’re tackling poverty at its source. ...
The anti-poverty strategy is a very strong part of the school equity agenda. More specifically, within the pre-K-12 world, Hillary has very strong proposals to make sure high-quality pre-K is available to everyone regardless of their ZIP code, regardless of their ability to pay. ... Hillary [has] proposals for significant new investments in ... Early Head Start, child care. These are things she’s cared about forever.
A version of this article appeared in the October 05, 2016 edition of Education Week as Personal Lens: A VP Nominee’s Spouse on Education