The Law: Control Question

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In open defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court, Virginia's tobacco-growing Prince Edward County (pop. 14,120) closed down all its public schools in June 1959 rather than desegregate them. The doors have stayed shut ever since—but last week Federal District Judge Oren R. Lewis shoved Prince Edward a long way closer toward compliance with the law of the land.

After the public schools closed, the county's leaders immediately established the Prince Edward School Foundation—a "private" school system that currently educates 1,500 white children. Originally financed by voluntary public contributions, the foundation last year received state and county grants that paid for all but $15 of the tuition that parents were charged. Negroes were offered the same deal to set up their own private schools; rather than accept the reality of continued segregation, they refused, instead sent many of their 1,800 children to unofficial "training centers" that did not meet legal requirements for public help.

Last week Judge Lewis ruled that Prince Edward County's financial arrangements effectively violated the Negroes' "constitutionally protected rights," enjoined county officials from accepting further grants for the foundation so long as the county refused to provide public schools. "We do not hold these ordinances are facially unlawful," he said. "We only hold they become unlawful when used to accomplish an unlawful end."

Still unanswered was a central question (which Negro parents will test in state courts): Could the county be compelled to reopen its public schools and comply with the principle of integration? Or would Prince Edward's children, both white and black, simply not have the opportunity for public school education?