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'Truth Will Prevail': Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education

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This week marks the 70th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision – Brown vs. Board of Education. The 1954 case changed public education in America, declaring that separate was not equal and mandating desegregation.

In Leesburg, Virginia, once a stronghold of segregation, the fight for equality in schools began long before the high court handed down that decision. 

From 1941 until 1968, Douglass High School served as the only high school for black students in Loudoun County, Virginia. Eighty-eight-year-old Jim Roberts, a Douglass High alumnus, remembers eating lunch in the gym, running down the court in many basketball games, and dancing at the Douglass High School prom. 
"Oh, yes. Yeah. I mean, you didn't want to miss school because you got to see friends and you made friends," Roberts said.

And Roberts said he never missed a prom. "Nope. Never missed a prom. I went to prom all the years. I got to go to sophomore, junior, and senior years," he said. 

As a student in the 1950s, Jim didn't see segregation as much of an issue. 

"How can you miss something if you've never experienced it? That's my take on it. It's just the way it was. But the kids (black and white) we all played together, did everything together. The only thing we didn't do, we didn't go to the same church and didn't go to the same schools," Roberts remembered.

Before high school, Jim attended what was known as the training school for black residents of Leesburg. The building, which still stands today, was considered unsafe and did not have indoor plumbing. And while Jim may have been too young to see the injustice, his mother and many others worked behind the scenes, attempting to make things right.

The real story of how Douglass High School came to be can be traced back to the parents and black activists who were determined that their sons and daughter would receive a good education, no matter the cost.

"They wanted an accredited high school program, but the white government wouldn't give it to them. So, they said, we don't have land for that. So, they said, okay, we're going to buy the land," said Larry Roeder, CEO of Edwin Washington Society.

In 1938, members of the black community formed the County Wide League, raising $4,000 to buy land for a high school.  The county, however, wouldn't let them build on the land unless they owned it and forced the league to sell them the land for only $1.  

"They had to give it to the school system for one buck if they were going to have the high school. After the high school was built, which it was obviously, we're in it right now, there was no furniture. So, the black community had to produce the furniture themselves, and that is emblematic of what was going on during the segregated era. So, they were provided schools, but they were not equal," said Roeder who is the author of Dirt Don't Burn: A Black Community's Struggle for Educational Equality Under Segregation

During his address at Regent University's commencement ceremony, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares recalled the story of Barbara Johns, who in 1951 saw the injustice of segregation and did something about it. 

"Every day, Barbara passed a school that was beautifully built, it had just been done, that was for only white students.  And she was forced, living in then-segregated Virginia, to attend a segregated black high school, which required her, every time it rained to carry an umbrella just to sit in class," Miyares told the graduates. 

"This 16-year-old girl got up at a student assembly and said, if you're tired of this, tired of this injustice, please, leave school now and march with me to the superintendent's office to demand change," he said.

That march led to a group of lawsuits against school districts in Virginia, Kansas, South Carolina, Delaware, and the District of Columbia which become Brown vs. Board of Education.

"What you may not realize is that actually 75% of the plaintiffs in that case were led by Barbara Johns, they were Virginians," said Miyares.

Former trial attorney and Virginian Lisa O'Donnell says, "Brown vs. Board of Education is one of those landmark Supreme Court decisions that really changed the history in our country forever and for the good." 

"I think it's important for us to have an appreciation for what that case did for us. I mean, I came along well after schools were desegregated and I think about what my experience would have been had I not had the opportunity to come to know certain friends that I had," O'Donnell said.

The justices ruled unanimously in the landmark 1954 Brown decision – and the following year – they ruled unanimously again in a follow-up decision, instructing the states to begin desegregating with "all deliberate speed." Still, Loudon County held out until 1968. 

The county officially apologized to the black community in 2020 for not fighting school segregation. 

Today, the Douglass High School building houses other educational programs and serves as a museum to the original all-black high school. When giving walking tours of Douglass, Roberts says he's always asked the same question: 'What was here before? What was here before?' 

"So, this high school being here, this is a monument to the black community and to all of America and the struggles that we went through," Roberts said. 

Roberts who would join the Navy after high school and work at a number of jobs throughout his life, says that while we've come a long way in race relations, it's only faith in God that will see you through.

"The thing that I think of when I read my Bible, and I see it all the way through the Bible from Genesis, is the word 'truth.' Truth, truth will prevail regardless. It might take a while to do it, but the truth will prevail," Roberts said. 

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About The Author

Wendy Griffith

Wendy Griffith is a Co-host for The 700 Club and an Anchor and Senior Reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network based in Virginia Beach, Virginia. In addition to The 700 Club, Wendy co-anchors Christian World News, a weekly show that focuses on the triumphs and challenges of the global church. ( Wendy started her career at CBN on Capitol Hill, where she was the network’s Congressional Correspondent during the Impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. She then moved to the Virginia Beach headquarters in 2000 to concentrate on stories with a more