Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, will serve as a panelist in a discussion on Virginia’s civil rights and education history at a Longwood University Symposium marking the 50th anniversary of the Prince Edward Free Schools Movement on Monday, April 7 in Farmville, Va. The Free Schools were a privately-funded, joint state and national effort led by then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. They provided free education to students in 1963-64, during the five-year period when Prince Edward County public schools closed to delay integration.
Lhamon will be joined by three speakers with deep connections to the civil rights history of Prince Edward County: L. Francis “Skip” Griffin Jr., son of area civil rights leader the Rev. L. Francis Griffin, a plaintiff in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County; Oliver Hill, professor of psychology at Virginia State University and son of the Richmond-based attorney who led the Virginia NAACP’s campaign against segregation; and Margot Rogers, a graduate of the county schools and former chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County case, which forced the county’s schools to re-open after being closed from 1959-64. Prince Edward was one of five localities nationwide involved in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
Lhamon leads the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, whose mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout America through vigorous enforcement of civil rights.