Virginia Voices of Integration: Wisdom, and hope, for the future
In the last of a five-part series on the struggle for public school integration in the Shenandoah Valley and Charlottesville, WMRA's Randi B. Hagi got some words of wisdom from each of the six people she talked to.
I closed each interview for this project by asking everyone what they hope future generations will take away from their experiences desegregating public schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Harrisonburg. What follows are their reflections, starting with Betty Kilby Fisher Baldwin, who graduated from Warren County High School in 1963.
BETTY KILBY FISHER BALDWIN: I want them to appreciate the opportunity to get an education, because not everybody has that opportunity, and I'm thinking about the child who has a drug addict parent, or an alcoholic parent, who can't, who can't study and can't keep it in because they are traumatized. I'm thinking about the homeless students who have no home, and some don't have hope. That education is so important to pull you out of despair.
Here's Karen Sue Robinson, a 1967 graduate of Harrisonburg High School, speaking with me and her daughter Monica Robinson.
MONICA ROBINSON: And what do you tell the boys, Mom? Who are her great-grandkids. About how it's a privilege, like they should want to go to school …
KAREN SUE ROBINSON: That they should want to go to school. Stay in school. Learn as much as you can, because [by the] time they graduate, you're gonna have to have a degree to work at McDonald's or somewhere!
James M. Kilby graduated from Warren County High School in 1961.
JAMES M. KILBY: Whatever your goal is, you have to see it through, and don't let nobody turn you around. Don't let nobody stop you. If you want a good education, stay in school, do the work, and it will pay off in the end. Because with an education, you can get a good job, you can get good money, and that way you can take care of your family. You can't only think about today. You have to think about tomorrow as well, so don't quit.
Howard Stevens graduated from Harrisonburg High School in 1968.
HOWARD STEVENS: What I would say about my high school experience, and my approach to my high school experience, is that I was going to just simply treat people as I wanted to be treated. And I would act accordingly to how people treated me. You know, I wasn't going to let people who didn't care about me have an effect on my life. I think what we need to do is look around at those who care, find out how they feel about us, and act accordingly to that.
Charles E. Alexander, a.k.a Mr. Alex-Zan, is a 1970 graduate of Lane High School in Charlottesville.
CHARLES E. ALEXANDER: I want to encourage them to aspire to be an award winner. To make history. To be an inventor. To be a trailblazer. It's fine to know my story, but I want them to, first of all, become great listeners and thinkers, and start thinking about their purpose and their goals, so they can be on the path to what I call greatness. I don't put a lot of emphasis on success. I like the term "greatness." … and as Dr. Martin Luther King stated – that everyone can be great when they serve.
Sandra Wicks Lewis graduated from Lane in 1968.
SANDRA WICKS LEWIS: Americans today – Americans of every shade face obstacles, and back during the time of the Civil Rights movement, you know, nonviolent protest was what we used. And the courts. And I do think that that can work today. There probably are other things that are more valid today than they would have been back then … I also want our youth and our young people -- the young adults who do feel like they don't have a lot of options, that they continue to try to go after those options that they're guaranteed by our Constitution. But that they also continue to prepare themselves … through education and otherwise to be able to live in this society. So they … need to do two things. They need to fight for their rights, but they don't need to give up hope of achieving their goals.
Randi would like to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who spoke with her for this series for their time, their candor, and their trust.
WMRA would also like to thank the University of Virginia, Washington & Lee, and Massanutten Regional libraries for the access to their archives that made this series possible.