Prince Edward Academy, the private Virginia school that for years was a symbol of the state's Massive Resistance to public school desegregation, has appointed a black man to its board of directors and plans to enroll its first black student in the fall, the Internal Revenue Service said yesterday.
The school, founded after public schools in Prince Edward County were closed in 1959 as part of Virginia's opposition to desegregation, regained its tax-exempt status in an IRS action last year that has come under fire from civil rights groups and some members of Congress.
The IRS agreed to review the decision along with the tax-exempt status it also recently granted to two other private schools in southern Virginia.
Yesterday Rep. J.J. Pickle (D-Tex.), a critic of the agency's action, said the agency stripped both the Amelia Education Foundation in Amelia and the Isle of Wight Educational Foundation this week of their recently restored tax-exempt status but retained Prince Edward's favorable status.
Pickle called for new hearings into the tax status of the three schools, saying he wanted to know "why the IRS came to such different conclusions regarding these schools." He also said he wanted top IRS officials to explain "exactly on what basis Prince Edward, with a long history of racial discrimination, now warrants tax-exempt status."
An IRS spokesman quoted a "technical advisory" stating that the school, 60 miles southwest of Richmond, recently agreed to appoint Edgar Berry, a black, to its board of directors, and to admit a black student in the fall. The student was not identified. The IRS said that those actions, coupled with other recent efforts to attract potential black students, represented "a strong indication that the school is no longer continuing its past policies of racial discrimination."
James E. Ghee, president of the Virginia NAACP, laughed when told of the IRS' announcement. "The school has found a 'face,' a black person who will window-dress for them so they can meet the minimum requirements of the IRS to maintain their tax-exempt status," he said. "There has been no change."
Ghee said that Berry would be the only black on a 50-member board. He said that Berry had moved to Cumberland County from New York a few years ago, and was a Jamaican "who does not necessarily identify with black people in the South. He thinks he's different. He doesn't associate with them."
Robert T. Redd, the administrator of the 650-pupil school in Farmville, refused to comment yesterday and referred inquiries to the school's Richmond attorney, John William Crews. He could not be reached.
The IRS statement noted that Berry will head a scholarship committee to aid needy black students and has promised to "actively recuit" black students. Tuition at the school last fall ranged from $800 to $1,550.
The federal agency also pointed to an open house the school hosted for prospective black students and their parents April 5, one that was advertised to about 30 leaders in the black community. Although only one woman came with her son and asked that he be admitted, the IRS said the school's action was a sincere effort to inform the public of its "nondiscriminatory policies."
Tax-exempt status is crucial to most private schools because it frees them from federal tax liabilities and allows supporters to make tax-deductible contributions to them.