About the Film
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The Prince Edward case ... posed the moral question of whether it is right and just in twentieth-century America for a county to close its public schools, for whatever reason.

– R. C. Smith

Student demonstrators in Prince Edward, July 1963
Student demonstrators in Prince Edward, July 1963

In 1959, local officials closed the public school system of Prince Edward County, Virginia, in defiance of the desegregation ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 1954.

For a period of five years, 1959-1964, public education was denied to more than 2,000 African-American children and a number of poor white children who, with only a few exceptions, remained unschooled.

No other political jurisdiction in the United States had taken the extreme step of closing its entire public school system to avoid desegregation. The human legacy of these tragic events was a crippled generation of uneducated and under-educated children who were denied their right to education and, thus, their right to full participation in American society. It is fair to say that in no other community in the country did the Brown ruling have such a significant effect.

The African-American community of Prince Edward was one of five plaintiffs in the historic Brown case. The closing of the public schools there was the climactic event of a decades-long struggle for educational opportunity by the African-American community of this rural, agricultural region of southside Virginia.

They Closed Our Schools is a documentary film of a history unique in the American experience. This story of a community in crisis is a cautionary tale that starkly illustrates the pain and damage inflicted by the denial of education and asks us to consider that similar issues can still threaten public education today.

(Photograph courtesy of the Richmond Times Dispatch)