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2014 News Releases

Top civil rights official will headline Longwood symposium marking anniversary of Prince Edward Free Schools movement April 7

March 25, 2014

Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education

The nation’s highest-ranking education civil rights official will headline a symposium at Longwood University on April 7 marking the 50th anniversary of the Prince Edward Free Schools movement and surveying the current landscape of civil rights in education.

Using experimental educational techniques that foreshadowed the modern education reform movement, the Free Schools were a privately funded, joint state and national effort spearheaded by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They provided free education to students in 1963-64, during the 5-year period when Prince Edward County public schools closed to forestall integration.

The 7 p.m. symposium in Jarman Auditorium, sponsored jointly by Longwood and the Robert Russa Moton Museum, is free and open to the public. Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV will moderate the discussion.

Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, will be joined on stage by three prominent speakers with close personal connections to the civil rights history of Prince Edward County: L. Francis "Skip" Griffin Jr., Dr. Oliver Hill and Margot Rogers, a graduate of the county schools and former chief of staff to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

"This will truly be one of the signature events of the year on campus," Reveley said. "In this region, we walk literally in the footsteps of those who took some of the first, most critical and most courageous actions in the struggle for civil rights. We honor that history by reflecting on that period, and connecting it to the present and future challenges confronting the core principle of the civil right to education."

Lhamon, who oversees the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has earned repeat accolades as one of California’s top women lawyers, and as a lawyer of the year for civil rights. She was also named one of California’s Top 20 Lawyers Under 40 in 2007. Immediately prior to coming to her current position, she was the director of impact litigation at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm. She previously practiced for a decade at the ACLU of Southern California, ultimately as assistant legal director. She received her J.D. from Yale Law School, where she was the Outstanding Woman Law Graduate, and graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College.

Griffin, a namesake son of area civil rights leader the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, was a plaintiff in the case Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in that case, which forced the county’s schools to re-open after being closed from 1959-64. Prince Edward was one of five localities nationwide involved in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregated schools unconstitutional.

Hill, a professor of psychology at Virginia State University, is the son of Oliver W. Hill Sr., the Richmond-based attorney who led the Virginia NAACP’s campaign against segregation.

Rogers has held senior positions with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.S Department of Education, where she was Duncan’s first chief of staff. Her experience in the Prince Edward public schools motivated her to become a legal services lawyer, where for six years she worked with low-income students on education quality issues.

At noon on April 7, a panel of scholars will meet at the Moton Museum to discuss "50 Years after the Free Schools and Griffin: Recent Scholarship."

Panelists include Dr. Candace Epps-Robertson, assistant professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Cultures at Michigan State University, who researches literacy education in the Free Schools; Brian E. Lee, Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, who researches the role of the Kennedy Administration in restoring public education to Prince Edward; and Dr. Jill Ogline Titus, associate director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College and author of Brown’s Battleground: Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

The scholars’ discussion will be moderated by Dr. Larissa Smith Fergeson, associate professor of history at Longwood, and resident historian at the Moton Museum.

The panel is part of the Moton Museum’s Brown Bag lunch series and is also free and open to the public.

Contact: Larissa Fergeson, Longwood Department of History: 434-395-2776, fergesonls@longwood.edu