Northern Va. residents recount civil rights struggle

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WUSA9) -- It's a project to capture the stories of the Civil Rights struggle,directly from those who lived through it. From facing segregation in the military, and in the schools, the stories come from residents of Northern Virginia and are part of a new video archive.

Congressman Gerry Connolly spearheaded the project to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the Civil Right Act.

Ralph Smith was 13-years-old when his county decided to close its schools rather than desegregate. He was living with his family in Prince Edward County, Virginia and says the decision was "devastating" to the community. He had been looking forward to playing football in high school.

Instead, Smith remembers holding his football watching a school bus filled with white school mates heading to their new all-white private academy. His family sent him away to North Carolina to be educated and he never moved home again; it stole part of his childhood and weekly childhood fishing trips with his father. However Smith's younger brother fared worse. He was not able to go to school for five years throughout the closure.

Smith's is just one of 35 stories told on the video archive conceived by Rep. Gerry Connolly.

"It was the 50th anniversary of the probably the most important piece of legislation passed in the 20th century. I was child of the Civil Rights movement and I was so struck by the images on television. Both the heroic and the terrible images. And thought, what passion, what courage," said Connolly. He decided to get people together who could identify, research and interview people who were part of the Civil Rights struggle.

Monday, the archive was presented to the libraries of Fairfax and Prince William Counties, the Library of Congress and George Mason University, which will manage it. The hope is that teachers will use it to help students understand recent history and struggles still underway.

Written by Peggy Fox


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