TwHP Lessons

New Kent School and the
George W. Watkins School:
From Freedom of Choice to Integration

[Photo] New Kent School (now New Kent Middle School), New Kent County, VA.

[Photo] George W. Watkins School (now George W. Watkins Elementary School, New Kent County, VA.
(National Historic Landmark photos, Photos by Susan Salvatore)


n the early 1830s, Thomas "Daddy" Rice, a white actor, began caricaturing blacks in his stage performances. One of his characters, a black man named "Jim Crow," would become synonymous with legalized segregation in this country. During the so-called Jim Crow era of the late 19th through mid-20th centuries, separation of the races in public transportation, parks, restaurants, and other public places was either required by law or permitted as a cultural norm. Public schools were no exception to this rule. School systems across the South were typically segregated. After 1896 these schools were supposed to adhere to the separate but equal rule established by the United States Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, but in reality, the schools for blacks were most often inferior to the schools for whites. It was this inequality that galvanized the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to begin the process of dismantling Jim Crow through the court system in the early 20th century.

The New Kent School and the George W. Watkins School, located in New Kent County, Virginia, are associated with the most significant public school desegregation case the U.S. Supreme Court decided after Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. While Brown determined that separate schools were inherently unequal, it did not define the process by which schools would be desegregated. The 1968 Charles C. Green, et al., v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia, et al. decision defined the standards by which the Court judged whether a violation of the U.S. Constitution had been remedied in school desegregation cases. Henceforth, a decade of massive resistance to school desegregation in the South from 1955-1964 would be replaced by an era of massive integration from 1968-1973, as the Court placed an affirmative duty on school boards to integrate schools. The New Kent and George W. Watkins schools illustrate the typical characteristics of a southern rural school system that achieved token desegregation following the Brown decision. They stand as a symbol to the efforts of the modern Civil Rights Movement of 1954-1970 to expand the rights of black citizens in the United States.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. New Kent County Map

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. History of Charles C. Green v. County School
 Board of New Kent County, VA

 2. Excerpts from the Green decision
 3. Perspectives on the New Kent County

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. 1967 New Kent School girls' basketball team
 2. 1967 New Kent School student government

 3. 1969 George W. Watkins junior class
 4. 1970 New Kent High School student
 government officers

 5. 1970 New Kent High School senior class

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Oral Interviews--Preserving a Piece of History
 2. History of My School
 3. First Person Account

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This lesson is based on the New Kent School and George W. Watkins School, two of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Both properties have been designated National Historic Landmarks.



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