The Pupil Placement Board was created through Massive Resistance policies by Virginia's elected officials in 1956. The Library of Virginia today shares specific details on how the board operated: "The Pupil Placement Board... was charged with assigning, enrolling, or placing students to and in public schools." It included three, governor-appointed members that assigned students according to "the health of the pupil, his or her aptitudes, the availability of transportation, and 'such other relevant matters as may be pertinent to the efficient operation of the schools or indicate a clear and present danger to the public peace and tranquility affecting the safety or welfare of the citizens of such school district'." Prior to the establishment of this state-level board, school districts or their respective superintendents handled these assignments. The Pupil Placement Board followed the traditions of the individual school districts, focusing their efforts on those students that transitioned to a new school or sought transfer to another school, whether or not that was in the same district or a different district. Although the members of the Pupil Placement board resigned as of June 1, 1960, based on a report to Governor Almond, the board was not officially abolished until 1966 by an act of General Assembly.
Perusing the records of the Pupil Placement Board, there are several important tidbits to know surrounding this time period - all of which are consequential for recognizing the politically-motivated name choice for Shenandoah County's southern campus high school in 1959.
First, some of the records include folders with race-related pamphlets, personal letters addressed to the board, and similar argumentative propaganda to promote racial segregation. These public opinion pieces were read by board members.
Some of the documentation includes sermons like "Fusion of the Races: A Mongrel America Tomorrow," which was delivered by a pastor in Richmond, VA, and focused on the divinity of racial identity and the warning that the tower of Babel holds for pro-integration advocates. Articles and essays by psychiatrists hypothesized the importance of segregation by reminding of the adverse psychological impacts on African American youth. In "Brief Communications: Integrated Schools and Negro Character Development," published in Psychiatry, the authors note: "The very language is alive with negative color connotations: An objectionable deed is a 'dark' deed, an evil look is a 'black' look, a scoundrel is a 'blackguard' or a 'black sheep.' Advertisements, the films, and television foster Caucasian esthetic preferences. Every Negro, child or adult, goes through life unsure of acceptance in the environment which constitutes his social world. We are here concerned, however, with the school situation in which the Negro child finds himself at an age when he may be particularly sensitive to the influences in an environment of such high emotional salience" (1964:72). Also included was Form No. 118 created by the Christian Educational Assn, Union, New Jersey, showing a ten cel cartoon depicting an African American boy and Caucasian American girl marrying and having children together. It concludes: "Wake up for your country's sake, City and State, for your own sake and the future generations sake, and the white peoples sake as well as the colored peoples sake. Our enemies are behind the move. They have been undermining us for the last 30 or 40 years. We are so divided, that if a war started tomorrow, God only knows where we would land. Our enemy is organized - but we are not" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va) - provided to support an argument against integration.
Handwritten letters, deemed public opinion, reminded the Pupil Placement Board of the problems integration would cause in the community. One anonymous letter began with "VENERAL Disease" underlined at the top and stated: "The Department of Health reported 854 cases of gonorrhea alone among school children in 1955 - 97 percent were Negroes. Now if any white child gets a germ from this truble, the Federal government can be sued..." (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.).
A letter in cursive blue ink reads: "Pupil Placement Board, I just want to say that I hope and pray that any of you that agree to put colored pupils in any of the white schools won't be able to put all your families children in private or all white schools and that a negro will marry some of them, because when they mix in classes they'll mix in activities and then socially. You are really asking for a lot of grief for poorer people who can not afford private teachers, etc... In my Bible the colored descendants were a matter of punishment to Ham, and if God made them different he must have intended for us to live separately. They don't want equal rights. They would rather go to a white tumbled down school than a new all colored school and you all know it too. They have equal schools and teachers now. Don't be stupid. Look further ahead" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va).
Another typed anonymous letter shares, "Can't you people see what will happen if you keep entering negro's in our white schools mixing them with our white childred, what kind of a race will we have in fifty years from now. PLEASE WAKE UP, The negros have schools of their own why do you want to mix them with our white childred. DO YOU HAVE ANY RESPECT FOR OUR WHITE CHILDREN" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.).
Stamped June 15, 1962, a long letter to "All Americans" from the White Citizens National Organization for the Betterment of America includes the following sentiments: "...join with us in the national organization so we will be strong enough to put the right people in all government positions, Federal and State. This will preserve the traditional free, God loving peaceful America, which is the American peoples most glorious heritage, that was bought with the sweat and blood of our forefathers, and left to us as a sacred legacy.
"The American negroes have been organized by a certain communistic inspired association. And through with about one third or less of the negroes being organized they have brought about supreme court rulings and law makings that are not only un-constitutional but un-american as well. You see even the inferior negroes know that this can only be accomplished through organization, and has organized. Most of the negroes don't even understand what they are doing by their boycotts and unamerican measures brought about by this organization, but they do understand it takes organization to do it.
"Certainly we the white citizens of America can organize a much larger and more powerful organization than the negroes have, and counteract the actions brought about by this communistic inspired organization.... We... plan to have delegates we can send to all supreme court hearings to oppose what we do not approve of. We will have chosen delegates to meet with the local and state government heads to oppose giving our schools, swimming pools, parks etc. to the negroes; or to cover any other matter of which we do not approve" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va).
Another cursive script, blue-inked letter shares the following public opinion: "Sirs. I was under the impression that in a democracy the majority had some freedom of choice. The majority of the people of this state do not want integration and you are pouring the negro riff-raff by scores and hundreds into our white schools - you are falling into great disfavor with the people... You are letting a bunch of howling, crocodile singing and praying, jumping up and down negroes scare you to death... What has become of the red blood, in plain English, the guts of the males of our state who are supposed to be leaders?" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.). The Pupil Placement Board executive secretary responded to every letter, if it was signed and addressed. The previous letter had the following response: "We have your letter of June 24, 1963, which was read to the Pupil Placement Board when it was in session in June. We appreciate your interest" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.). Each public opinion, no matter how racist, was shared openly at the board's meetings.
That public opinion folder also included pamphlets from anti-integration organizations like the ATAC, which distributed a Racial Facts tri-fold with information derived from various sources claiming:
- "the illegitimacy record of the Negro and the Venereal Disease rate are just as high or higher in the so-called integrated and Civil Rights states as they are in the Deep South"
- "the time honored and history proven custom of segregation has been a major factor in the South's great progress since Reconstruction"
- "segregation provides for better educational opportunities, assembling students of similar interest, background and characteristics"
- "integration would result in miscegenation and a mongrelized population with little pride of race, nation or religion and would thus weaken the United States"
- "the perfect solution to the race problem would be geographical separation but the best alternative is neighborhood and social separation"
- "the races of man are the handiwork of God, as is everything in nature. If He had wanted only one type of man, He would have created only one." (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.)
This sampling of information and pamphlets was only a small part of Virginia's Pupil Placement Board folders in the Library of Virginia. It shows the kind of information that influenced the board. However, there are also meeting minutes, personal interviews or placement records, and correspondence with local superintendents, parents, and more. We will look at correspondence and minutes next week.
In light of the information we first noted above in regards to the Pupil Placement Board's folders, it's important to recognize the inherent bias in the purpose of the Pupil Placement Board. Each student requesting a transfer or moving into another Virginia school (from primary to high) was placed by the board. All white students were automatically assigned to schools for white children. All black students were automatically assigned to schools for black children, which in Shenandoah County meant they were bussed out of county once they reached 7th grade or required to go to a boarding school elsewhere (see Week 42: Education Without Heart). If a parent requested their child transferred to a school in the county, and - because the records do not have one request by a white parent requesting their white child to attend a black school - more specifically, if an African American parent requested their African American child to transfer to one of the whites-only schools in Shenandoah County, they were inflicted to a personal interview, which included the following questions:
- "1. What do you think about and what is your attitude toward the school your child is presently attending?"
- "2. Are you satisfied with the teachers there?"
- "3. With the principal there?"
- "4. The instruction your child is getting there?"
- "5. Is your child progressing generally well and in an orderly manner there?"
- "6. Would the change away from former friends or teachers be really for the benefit of your child?"
- "7. If answer is 'yes' - why?"
- "8. Is the application for transfer being made solely to enforce a so-called 'Constitutional right'?"
- "9. Just what are all the reasons you desire the transfer?"
- "10. What is your occupation?" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.)
Both parents were required to answer these questions, independently if possible. The board even similarly questioned the child, separately from the parents:
- "1. How are you getting along in the school you have been attending?"
- "2. What do you think about the principal there?"
- "3. About your teachers there?"
- "4. What would you yourself really prefer to do?"
- "5. Why?"
- "6. What do you plan to be when you grow up?" (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.)
In addition, the district superintendent would map the location of the family's home in relation to the current school they were attending and the school to which they requested transfer, as well as provide test scores, age, grade level, and any other information gleaned regarding the child seeking a transfer. As we will see next week, the information was not always pertinent to the child's education.
Ultimately, the Pupil Placement Board, in a telephone conference meeting dated September 9, 1959, claimed the following position: "It has always been the basic position of the Pupil Placement Board that the decision in Brown vs Board of Education was not a decree forbidding discrimination on the sole ground of race or color... there is no obligation upon any State agency to come forth with any plan for desegregation, or any obligation to accelerate the process." (Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, 1957-1966. Accession 26517, State records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.).
How was this received by the African American populace in Shenandoah County? How did this directly impact our schools? We'll explore that next week by turning our attention to relevant Pupil Placement Board minutes and correspondence.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
52 / Remembering & Moving On
51 / Integration & Teachers
50 / In Our Own Community
49 / S J H S
48 / Not One Positive Step
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day