Letter: Seventy years after Brown, our work continues (2024)

I want to send my congratulations and gratitude to the Richmond Times-Dispatch for your excellent series on the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, its immediate effect in Virginia and its subsequent history. Your hard-hitting Editorial Board summation on May 19 (“Segregationist history? In RVA, the past is our present”) about its lingering failures was helpful and timely.

The reason for my gratitude is personal. Having arrived in Richmond for the first time in September 1962 to enter Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary), I was startled by adulations to the Confederacy and its lingering effects almost everywhere. I moved from Atlanta, Georgia, where I had attended most of elementary and high school, and where Grady High School had been quietly and successfully integrated in 1961. This was vigorously supported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, with its courtly and determined editor, Ralph McGill, who advocated for compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court decision.

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I arrived in Richmond confronted with Confederate monuments, articles in the press about the “war between the states” alongside articles in support of Massive Resistance. The latter was frequently discussed by faculty and students at Union Presbyterian Seminary because Prince Edward County was where Union had been organized in 1812 as a part of Hampden-Sydney College. In 1898, Union moved to Richmond’s Ginter Park neighborhood.

Controversies over integration overshadowed my tenure at Union, enhanced by the 1963 visit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when he spoke in Richmond. Many of us attended the speech and were delighted to see one of our most faithful professors, Ernest Trice Thompson, on the stage greeting the speakers.

In 1965, Union responded to the events in Selma by sending faculty and student representatives to the march from Selma to Montgomery the week after Bloody Sunday. We also organized our own sympathy march in Richmond with Virginia Union students and Catholic priests and nuns. Several hundred of us marched from the North Side to the state capitol.

Thank you for helping me recall those heady, hopeful years, even as I lament. In spite of extraordinary progress in many areas, especially politically, we still have, along with most of the U.S., not only segregated schools but insufficient commitment — year after year, governor after governor — to quality equal education for all students.

O. Benjamin Sparks.


Black History: 1963 demonstrations in Virginia

Civil rights demonstrations in Danville, Farmville and Richmond during the summer of 1963.


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Letter: Seventy years after Brown, our work continues (2024)


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