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Historical marker to be unveiled

Marker Text

Warren County High School, a Public Works Administration project, was constructed in 1940. In 1958, the local NAACP chapter, led by James W. Kilby, won a federal suit against the Warren County School Board to admit African Americans for the first time. In response, Gov. James Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered it closed in Sept. 1958, the first school in Virginia shut down under the state’s Massive Resistance strategy. After the 1959 Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that Massive Resistance was unconstitutional, a U.S. Circuit Court ordered it reopened. On 18 Feb. 1959, 23 African American students walked up this hill and integrated the school.
— Source: Department of Historic Resources

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Warren County to note middle school's significant role in desegregation

By M.K. Luther -- mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County will officially mark its place in the history of public school desegregation on Wednesday.

A Virginia Department of Historical Resources roadside marker will be officially unveiled and dedicated at the county's former high school on Luray Avenue, said Patrick Farris, executive director of the Warren Heritage Society.

The county's then segregated high school was closed in 1958 to avoid mandated public school integration. The closing rippled through the county, Farris said, as families scrambled to find ways to continue their children's education.

When the school was reopened in February 1959, the 23 black students who enrolled at the school entered a building that had been emptied.

By the time massive resistance laws were overturned, many of the white high school students had either left the county or made other arrangements to attend school, Farris said. The group of black students attended a school building designed to hold close to a thousand pupils, Farris said, with teachers holding classes for two or three pupils.

"They hold the honor and the distinction of integrating that high school," Farris said.

However, the community was ready in other ways for desegregation, Farris said, pointing out the speed with which the county reopened the school. Many school systems that shut down under massive resistance found other ways to skirt the law, and often local school boards simply refused to submit budgets to county governments.

"On a local level, they resisted desegregation," Farris said.

The dedication ceremony will include members of that original class of black pupils, Farris said. Members of Warren County High School senior class of 1959, dubbed the "Lost Class of 1959," also will be present.

June Jeffrey, vice president of class of 1959, and the Rev. James M. Kilby, son of local civil rights figure James W. Kilby, are scheduled as joint keynote speakers.

The younger Kilby's father filed the original suit that prompted the closing, fighting for his children's right to an equal education.

"[The marker] is a great tribute to my father and the 23 students who integrated Warren County High School and to the history of Warren County," Kilby said.

The ceremony also allows people another chance to see the newly renovated building, which has been reborn as the county's new middle school building.

"This is so much more than the cast iron of the marker," Farris said. "It is a way for the community to acknowledge the pain it suffered and come together in a positive way."

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources Historical Marker Placement Ceremony will be held at Warren County Middle School on 240 Luray Ave. on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

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