Prince Edward County, Virginia, closed its public schools in 1959 in “massive resistance” to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision of 1954. The editorial pages of the family-owned Farmville Herald led the fight to lock classrooms rather than integrate them. The school system remained closed until the fall of 1964, when the county at last was forced by the courts to comply with Brown-mandated desegregation. Meanwhile, most white children had attended a private, whites-only academy, in part with state-funded tuition grants. But more than two thousand black and a few white students were denied a formal education during the five-year closure. Lives were forever changed.
The Road to Healing is Ken Woodley’s first-person account of his crusade to bring healing to that wound while he was editor of the Farmville Herald, then still owned by the same family. The book’s centerpiece is the eighteen-month fight to create what the late Julian Bond described as the first civil rights-era reparations in U.S. history. If the 2003-2004 struggle to win passage of a state-funded scholarship program had been a roller coaster, it wouldn’t have passed the safety inspection—too many unsafe political twists and turns.
The narrative unfolds in Virginia, but it is a deeply American story. Prince Edward County’s ongoing journey of racial reconciliation blazes a hopeful and redemptive trail through difficult human terrain, but the signs are clear enough for a divided nation to follow.