School Integration in West Virginia


Charleston Daily Mail
May 20, 1954

Here On The Border

Further south, the Supreme court's decision on segregation creates grave problems whose magnitude can only be sensed in the outbursts of Gov. Talmadge and other embattled spokesmen of "white supremacy." Quite apart from the task of changing men's minds, which is never easy, there is the heroic financial and physical job of adapting a school system which have never considered integration as a real possibility.

Here in West Virginia, which is neither North nor South, the problem takes on radically different and far more manageable proportions.

For one thing the number of colored children who will be integrated is relatively small - about 26,000 as compared with a white school population of 420,000.

For another the geographical distribution is limited. Of West Virginia's 55 counties, 14 have no colored school population at all, 15 have less than 100, 10 less than 300 and only six with more than 1,000. Of these, McDowell county has the largest with 24 per cent of its school population now ready for integration.

And for another, there is the fact that West Virginia has paid considerably more than lip service to the now outmoded doctrine of "separate but equal" facilities in enforcing its system of segregation. In Kanawha county, for example, the colored school child has received at least an equal share of public school funds and on several scales, notably the higher degree of certification among his teachers and the smaller classroom load, has done even better than the white child.

The pattern is fairly typical of the state as a whole, and it has a distinct meaning. It means that whatever else integration may involve, it does not involve, as it does in so many Southern states, the problem of finding millions of dollars in new revenue to comply with the court's decree on equality. The problem, whatever its dimensions, is only one of convincing West Virginia of the court's decision - that segregation is in itself a form of discrimination which cannot be corrected except by eliminating it.

Toward this there are other, if less tangible factors, at work (see below).

If It Can Be Left To The Young

If integration in the public schools is to succeed (see above), it will not be because the Supreme court has said that it must. It will be because people generally are prepared to abide by the standards set for them by their highest officials.

On this score, the outlook for West Virginia is optimistic. First of all, there is the feeling, even among people who prefer segregation, that the Supreme court's decision was bound to come - "sooner or later." They do not like it, but reluctantly they admit its essential justice.

And then there is the quiet, unpublicized missionary work which has been going on among students of both races, chiefly in their extra-curricular activities, to create a better understanding and break down prejudice. There has been more of this than most people realize, and it strengthens what so many people have already suggested - that if compliance with the court's orders can be left to those it most directly affects, the adjustment will take place without undue strain or incident.

The resistance, if any, will come from an older generation, clinging stubbornly and proudly to its social code. The acceptance will come readily and gracefully if it can be left to those who will be the first to experience the Supreme court's liberalizing order.

African Americans

West Virginia Archives and History