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Va. Scholarships Aim to Atone For Abuses During Desegregation

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The first 60 recipients of a Virginia scholarship program were announced yesterday, part of an effort to make amends for locking dozens of students out of schools during the state's "massive resistance" campaign against desegregation.

The recipients of the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship, named for the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled "separate but equal" public schools unconstitutional, will receive awards of up to $5,500 apiece to use toward a college degree or a high school diploma.

The program was approved by the state legislature last year and dedicates $2 million toward the scholarships, which will be awarded over the next three years. Half of the money was contributed by John Kluge, a Charlottesville philanthropist who offered the sum to persuade hesitant lawmakers to come up with their share of the funds.

The scholarships are a small but significant gesture, said Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who endorsed the idea along with four former governors.

"I think that we have to recognize that this is one of the biggest mistakes Virginia ever made, to close down schools rather than integrate," Warner said. "You can never replace those lost years, but this at least goes a partial way to [repay] the debt we owe to these folks."

Most of the recipients still live in the southern part of the state, where, between 1954 and 1964, authorities closed four school divisions instead of complying with the law and allowing white and black students to learn side by side.

At least one -- Aldrena P. Thirkill of Dale City in Prince William County -- lives in Northern Virginia, according to information released yesterday.

The school closings that were part of "massive resistance" formally ended in 1964, when the Supreme Court called for Prince Edward County to reopen its schools, which by then had been shuttered for five years.

Some of the students affected by the closures -- both black and white, all now middle-aged or elderly -- moved or enrolled in private schools to continue their education. Others, though, simply dropped their educations and went to work.

Only those who moved or stopped school because of the closures were eligible for the awards. To receive the money, all recipients must be enrolled in a qualified high school equivalency program or a two- or four-year postsecondary program in Virginia this fall.

An additional 30 applications for the upcoming academic year are under review, said Brenda Edwards, senior researcher for the General Assembly's legislative services division. All award recipients will receive financial and educational counseling in addition to the money, she said.

"Most of these people are adult learners who have been out of school for a while or have never been in a collegiate environment at all, so they will need help with the transition," she said.

The deadline for applying for next year's scholarships is March 1. Application packets will be available starting Oct. 2.


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