Barbara Johns, who, as a teenager, helped organize a strike to desegregate schools in Prince Edward County. (Library of Virginia)
The Virginia man who first proposed the creation of a state education fund to help former Black students denied an education under Massive Resistance is asking the federal government for $1 million to support it.
Virginia’s Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund was created in 2004 and expanded during the 2023 legislative session.
Ken Woodley, who came up with the idea for the fund and made the recent funding request to Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, said there was a federal dereliction of duty during Massive Resistance, the period between 1954 and 1964 when Virginia imposed a set of laws to block school desegregation efforts and public schools in five Virginia localities were closed. During this time, said Woodley, the federal government failed to enforce the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“More than 2,000 African-American children, now adults, are left without a formal education in their lives, and so I can’t think of any argument the federal government can make to say, ‘No, we shouldn’t have to contribute,’” said Woodley.
“The moral historical ground for federal funds is irrefutable in my opinion,” he continued. “There’s just no argument against it.”
Warner and Kaine included the $1 million scholarship fund ask among their list of congressionally directed spending — or “earmark” — requests for the upcoming government funding bill, according to Janine Kritschgau, a spokesperson responding on behalf of both offices. She said the requests are being considered through a competitive process run by the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Kaine and Warner are not members, to determine whether or not they will receive funding.
In March, the General Assembly passed legislation that extended eligibility for fund scholarships to the “lineal and collateral descendants of persons” who were denied a public education in five localities where officials closed schools between 1954 and 1964.
The localities included Arlington County, the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk, Prince Edward County and Warren County. Under the prior law, only people who resided in those jurisdictions at the time the schools were closed were eligible for the funding.
Virginia NAACP President Robert Barnette Jr. said in an April 3 statement that Massive Resistance has had a “long-lasting effect specifically on Black families” and that the scholarship represents “an acknowledgment of the injustice created by the commonwealth and a step to repair it.”
Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, first introduced House Bill 1419 to expand eligibility for the fund after learning that nearly $1 million was sitting unused in it. She said the next step was to promote the fund and expand the criteria for more candidates to apply. Former Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who represented Richmond and was elected to the U.S. House this spring, carried similar legislation in the Senate.
Lily Jones of the Division of Legislative Services told the Mercury this January that the state put $50,000 toward the fund at its creation. John Kluge, a private donor, then offered $1 million if the state would match the donation. Virginia responded with a match, resulting in total funding of $2.1 million.
Of that, $1.3 million in scholarships have been given to 88 students. However, despite advertising, the program has not received any new applicants since 2019.
The committee that oversees the fund, which met for the first time since 2019 on Tuesday, backed a proposal to send a letter to federal lawmakers expressing their support for the request.
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