Integration: Dickie's Decision

  • Share
  • Read Later

Scared but delighted, the locked-out Negro children of Virginia's Prince Edward County resumed their education last week in four public schools leased by the Prince Edward Free School Association. And right there among them, his white face conspicuous in a sea of black ones, was a 6-ft., 180-lb. boy of 17 named Richard Moss—the single nonconformist who deliberately chose to go to school with 1,500 Negroes.

Dickie's inspiration comes from his father, Dean Gordon Moss of Longwood College in Farmville, the county seat. For four lonely years, in letters, speeches and interviews, Dean Moss has urged his fellow citizens to reopen public schools. He has been snubbed, ostracized, threatened—all to his son's increasing admiration. Sent earlier to school outside the county, Dickie is putting in his senior year at the free high school for a simple reason: "This was something I could do for my father. He has fought this battle fof a long time."

Dickie will hardly suffer academically. The free school, which is still passing the hat to pay for its year-long $1,000,000 crash program, is nongraded and amply supplied with teachers. It has a well-qualified school superintendent, Neil V. Sullivan, who is on leave from heading the schools of East Williston, Long Island. Because Dickie is far ahead of many of the Negro 17-year-olds, his father expects him to get "darn near tutorial education."

He is also getting a warm welcome. "We heard about you, but we didn't think you'd come," said one Negro boy. What Dickie is not getting is white sympathy. Hecklers razz him: "You gonna keep going to school with those niggers?" His father got an anonymous letter: "Don't you know what happened in Atlanta? Do you want a Charlayne Hunter in your family?"

Dickie Moss's example was supposed to encourage other white children, now mostly paying tuition of $240 to $265 at all-white private schools, to go to the free schools. None did out of principle, but Dickie was joined by three white students who are the children of poor farmers. One is a girl of seven, another a boy of eight. The third is Brenda Abernathy, 16, who lives in a tumbledown shack. Her ordeal, rising out of the poverty of her father, is tougher than Dickie's, but Superintendent Sullivan was heartened by her presence, however reluctant. Said he in his opening prayer: "We ask you to bless the students and to encourage them to take advantage of an opportunity denied them for four years —one which, we pray, will never again be denied an American child."