WHEN SEPARATE WAS NOT EQUAL
© Jerry F. Couch
In March of 1962, members of the Arty Lee School PTA of Dante attended a meeting of the Russell County School Board. It wasn’t the first time they had been there and it wouldn’t be the last time. The following 1962 news article from the Clinch Valley Times describes what took place at the meeting:
DANTE GROUP ASKS THE RUSSELL COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD FOR EQUAL FACILITIES
At the Russell County School Board meeting in Lebanon Monday along with regular business, a delegation from Dante representing the Dante Negro PTA with one Lebanon Negro present made a request to the board for a new gymnasium-auditorium, home economics building, a work shop, and a music program.
According to reports, the delegation spokesman, Dewey Cain, told the board his group wanted an affirmative or negative answer in the above projects and indicated his group was ready to pursue “other courses” to obtain their rights. The board decided to not make a hasty decision and Board Chairman Elwood Bausell told the group a “yes or no” answer would be given them in June.
Cain also asked that a Russell County gym be made available until one could be built at Dante.
The Dante school has an enrollment of around 155 elementary and high school students, with 22 paying tuition who are residents of Dickenson County.
Other items were brought before the Board, including a request by James Petrey that the Board consider employment of two music teachers to work with elementary grades in the county schools. No action was taken on this request.
“Let’s not be too hasty…” “Let’s not rush things…” those phrases had echoed across Virginia for years. In the meantime, white students from Dante were attending Castlewood High School which had all the things Arty Lee didn’t have, including a gym. For the 1960-1961 school year, Castlewood also had a new auditorium and a new football field. If members of the Arty Lee PTA were upset, who could blame them?
To understand what was taking place, it is necessary to view this situation in the context of its time and place; not through the lens of the present. Sen. Harry F. Byrd’s “Byrd Machine” was in control of Virginia politics. Byrd had instituted a campaign referred to as “Massive Resistance” in the face of court-ordered desegregation of Virginia’s schools. School Boards that failed to comply with this edict might conceivably face problems or delays with their state funding. Russell County needed every penny it could get for its schools.
Appalachian Power’s Clinch River generation plant at Carbo was the county’s cash cow as far as tax revenue was concerned. The plant generated more than electricity; it generated MONEY without which the Russell County School system would have been in dire straits.
Though the cash cow was being milked for all she was worth, Arty Lee wasn’t getting any of the cream. The school lost its certification.* This presented yet another hurdle for graduates planning to attend college. It reduced the already limited number of Virginia colleges that would accept them. In this difficult situation, Arty Lee’s faculty redoubled efforts to stretch the school’s limited financial resources. They found a way where there was no way. That’s just one reason why their students, now senior citizens, honor them today.
*Other schools in Russell County were also facing the threat of state de-certification, primarily due to the county’s alarmingly high dropout rate.
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