Book Review: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County – Kristen Green

something-must-be-done-about-prince-edward-countyTitle: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County: A Family, A Virginia Town, A Civil Rights Struggle
Author: Kristen Green
ISBN: 9780062268679
Pages: 336
Release Date: June 9, 2015
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Source: Publisher

Summary:

Kristen Green was born and raised in Farmville, Virginia, and for a long time, she didn’t give a lot of thought to her local history. But as she grew into adulthood, moved away, and pursued a degree in journalism, she began to look into Farmville’s history, and specifically, the decision to close the public schools rather than integrate after the Brown Supreme Court decision (most white students were sent to a private school). Green looks at the reasons behind the decision, the people involved, and the harm it did to Farmville’s black residents.

Review:

“In 1959, faced with a federal court order to desegregate the schools, Prince Edward County’s civic leaders refused to fund public education. They locked the doors of the public schools instead.”

I’m not even going to sugar coat it: Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County is a gut punch, but it’s a gut punch all of us need. I live in Washington, DC, just a couple of hours’ drive from Farmville, but I wasn’t aware of this dark chapter in its history until picking up this book. We’ve had a lot of race-related problems recently in the United States, and Green does an excellent job showing how racism and racially motivated decisions can disadvantage an entire minority population, with devastating repercussions for generations.

Green has a personal stake in this narrative, though, which is part of what makes Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County a compelling read. Her grandfather was one of the leaders in the movement to close public schools, rather than integrate them. The grandfather who loved and cared for her, who she had fond memories of, was at the head of the charge to make this appalling decision. How can she reconcile the man she loved with this? How would he feel about her nonwhite husband and her multiracial children? It gives the book a personal facet, which invests the reader in it. This would be an interesting (if horrible) story no matter how it was told or who told it, but this helps in terms of it being an easy, readable narrative.

Words can’t express how horrible this decision was, nor how widely the repercussions were felt within the black community of Farmville and Prince Edward County. Families were torn apart, when people had to choose to send their children away to educate them. Other children weren’t educated at all, perpetuating poverty and disadvantage. It’s horrible to think about, especially when the racism is so blatantly and unapologetically displayed on the page. Green gives a voice to the black residents of Farmville, though I’d love to hear a full story from their point of view as well.

Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County is a book that everyone needs to read; it’s  incredibly important to understand our history, to understand what brought us here, in order to do better. Green turns a sharp eye to this period in her own personal history, and while she is never able to fully reconcile the grandparents who made these decisions with those she knew and loved, it’s still a powerful read that is absolutely worth every second you spend with it.

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Comments

  1. As someone who is from Charlotte County which is one county over from Prince Edward, I am constantly amazed at the fact that almost no one knows about this chapter of Civil Right history. I took an African American history class for my Masters and there was absolutely no mention of Prince Edward in the textbook and when I mentioned it, everyone, including the teacher, was amazed.

  2. I saw this author on the daily show and immediatly put this book on my TBR list. You’re right that even though these kind of books are hard to read, we must read them anyway.

  3. Definitely on my to-read list. I heard about this event on the podcast Stuff you Missed in History Class, and I would love to know more.

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