© Jerry F. Couch 2018
IN TWO PREVIOUS CVT ARTICLES, we learned that Russell County’s Arty-Lee School, despite being housed in a relatively new building, faced serious challenges in the early 1960’s. The school’s chief problems were its limited curriculum and facilities – no library, no gym, no home economics program, no science laboratory, to name a few. Hampered by these deficiencies, the school eventually lost its certification.
Meanwhile, despite their well-equipped new school buildings, the all-white segregated high schools of Russell County were also facing potential loss of certification. This was due to a serious dropout problem. The problem was explored in detail in an Associated Press article that appeared in November of 1962. Here’s a partial transcription:
Virginia has one of the worst high school “dropout” problems in the nation and a large share of the trouble can be traced to the economically depressed southwest portion of the state.
Statistics show that one of every two students entering the eighth grade in the Old Dominion won’t be around for high school commencement. The southwest coal mining region is a major contributor to this average.
The article went on to explain that a total of 281 students left Tazewell County’s high schools in 1961, a figure representing 9% of the student body. In Smyth County the total was 13.3% of the school’s enrollment. Buchanan County’s loss was 10.4%. Though exact numbers were unavailable, Wise County and Lee County schools were also hard-hit.
In Russell County, the high schools at Lebanon, Cleveland, and Castlewood all reported enrollment losses above the state’s 4.9% average. Honaker reported a 12.1% enrollment loss. However, there was one school that reported no loss of enrollment – the Arty-Lee High School.
Despite the school’s frustrating financial limitations, the parents of Arty-Lee’s students were obviously doing their best to keep their kids in school and support education. In the second article in this series, we learned that representatives from Arty-Lee’s PTA met with the Russell County School Board on several occasions to air their concerns. The board took the parents’ concerns under advisement and promised an answer at a future meeting. Three months later, here’s what took place:
Negro Parents Take Stand For Equal School Facilities
DANTE (AP) — Russell County’s Negro parents will take whatever steps are necessary – short of integration – to insure equal school facilities for their children, a Negro leader said Friday.
Dewey Cain, a coal miner with four children in Russell County’s only Negro high school, said “We’re not asking for integration…we’re not going to shove our kids on them if they don’t want them.”
His statement followed rejection by the Russell County School Board of a request for improvements at all-Negro Arty-Lee High School at Dante.
The Negro parent-teacher organization, led by Cain, appeared before the board March 6 to petition for a new gymnasium with showers, a home economics department, rest rooms and lounge for teachers, a hard-surfaced driveway, wall maps, a music teacher, and a boys’ workshop.
After three months study, the board this week denied the request because, a resolution said, the money “is not available to the board at this time.”
“We’re asking for equal facilities,” Cain said, “not just because they [white schools] have them, but because we need them.”
“They told us they’re short of money, but they figure on building a new high school over at Cleveland.”
Cain said the school’s basketball team must practice out-of-doors and must play all games away from home because no gymnasium is available.
Enrollment at Arty-Lee High School is now 122, according to School Superintendent G. H. Givens of Lebanon. Of that number, he said, 16 are contract students, brought to the school by bus from Dickenson County.
The only other Negro school in the county is a one-room building at Lebanon with an enrollment of 13.
The board estimated total cost of all the requested improvements would be between $176,000 and $200,000.
The Russell County School Board had responded truthfully. Russell County was strapped for cash due to its limited tax base and a long-term school building program intended to staunch the dropout rate. Faced with potential loss of state funding if more county schools lost their certifications, it could be argued the board was trying to use the county’s money where it would benefit the greatest number of students.
If you had been an Arty-Lee parent in the 1960’s, would you have accepted this explanation? Matters were at an impasse. The only possible solution was desegregation. In the mid-1960’s, that’s what happened.
NOTE: This is an ongoing project. Please contact the Clinch Valley Times if you have information to share.
——- The Arty-Lee School, June 2019 —–
The students are gone, but the memories live on.