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Scholarships extend to descendants of those denied a public education

Sen. Williams gives remarks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Sen. Angelia Williams Graves, D-Norfolk gives remarks during the first day of the Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday, January 10, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship committee to award 44 people money for educational programs.

Forty-two descendants of Virginians locked out of school during Massive Resistance are now tentatively approved to each receive a $10,000 scholarship for an educational program in the state once all the paperwork is confirmed.

On Wednesday, the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship committee decided to approve funds for all new applicants to the program — after 2023 legislation allowed expanded eligibility last year.

Before new federal and state investments into the scholarship program, the committee only planned to offer 10 scholarship awards. But during a closed-session discussion about the applicants Wednesday, a decision was made to fund all of this year’s applicants.

Sen. Angelia Williams Graves (D–Norfolk), who chairs the committee, told VPM News that Del. Chris Runion (R–Augusta) made that proposal.

“Sometimes, you know, people say the obvious,” Graves said. “And I think that’s what he did. He just said the obvious thing out loud: If we give everybody $10,000 — and if we pay for a full ride for the two directly-impacted individuals — we are still going to more than likely come out under half a million dollars.”

The scholarship program is getting $2 million from the newly-approved 2-year state budget, as well as a $500,000 federal grant. That will bring the fund's balance to about $3 million after this year's awards are made.

“Obviously, we can't provide full rides for everybody that's a descendant. That’s a given,” Graves said. “However, we can do our very best to be as helpful with the funds that we have and help as many people as we can with what we're working with.”

Previously, the program, which was created in 2004, was limited to individuals directly impacted by the school closures; a handful of Virginia school divisions all closed schools for a period of time between 1954 and 1964 instead of integrating them after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, depriving thousands from receiving a public education.

However, the original students locked out of school are aging, and there’ve been calls over the years to expand the scholarship program to include their descendants.

The first application cycle in which descendants were eligible to apply for funding opened in January and closed in April. The next application period begins in January 2025.

The majority of the 42 descendants who are set to receive scholarships this year are relatives of the “lost generation” in Prince Edward County — where county officials closed public schools for five years from 1959 to 1964, rather than integrate them. Fewer than 10 applications came from all other counties combined.

Ten children of the Virginians directly impacted by the school closures were also approved to receive scholarship dollars, according to Lily Jones, of Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services. The majority of the approved applicants were grandchildren.

Additionally, two Virginians who were personally locked out of school will also receive funds from the scholarship program this year.

Jones said she received more inquiries about the program this year than in previous years, and hopes that additional advertising and outreach will help spread the word about the expanded eligibility. The change opens up the program not just to children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren but also nieces and nephews and their descendants.

She said earlier this year, there were some ads placed in newspapers and on social media through the Virginia Press Association.

“I don't know that the word was out extensively this year,” Jones told VPM News. “So, we're expecting that as more people find out about it … it'll be a larger number applying in future years.”

Graves said the committee plans to work with school counselors to help get the word out to students who are eligible to receive the funds.

“For some people, it can make all the difference in the world as to whether they complete their education or not,” she said.

The committee plans to meet again later this year to revisit eligibility requirements for the next round of applicants.

Some former scholarship recipients have been upset that the program has been limited to Virginia residents and that their relatives haven’t been able to apply for funds for an out-of-state institution. Graves said while considering out-of-state college applicants isn’t out of the question, priority will be given to students who remain in-state.

Ken Woodley, who lobbied to create the fund, applied for the additional federal money, which was approved earlier this year.

“We cleared every hurdle and when the FY 24 federal budget was finally passed in March it contained $500,000 for what the late Julian Bond told me became the first Civil Rights-era reparation program in U.S. history,” Woodley wrote in a letter to the committee.

After Woodley reached out about applying for federal funding, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine told VPM News that he and Sen. Mark Warner requested $1 million in federal grant funds and received half.

“The generation of Virginians who had an opportunity for education stolen from them because Virginia preferred segregation to allowing all to learn together, regardless of their skin color … they deserve recompense from the state,” Kaine said. “This particular form of recompense or reparations is educational support, because they were deprived of an education in an unjust and cruel way. And it's important that they now receive an opportunity to make up that deficit.”

Warner told VPM News that the federal allocation “will continue the legacy of righting the wrong of segregation and Massive Resistance.”

Kaine said it was premature to say whether they’d consider any future appropriations to the fund. He said he’d want to know: “What has been the level of requests on the existing fund? Is there still money in the fund? Or is there not money in the fund?”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.
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