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Healing Steps 

How a former Farmville newspaper editor helped bring about reparations for Massive Resistance.

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When Ken Woodley went to work at the family-owned Farmville Herald in 1979, fresh out of Hampden-Sydney College, he had never heard of Massive Resistance.

But when he discovered how strongly the newspaper had fought against integrated schools, he suddenly felt like he'd parachuted behind enemy lines because the paper's stand was so contrary to his own beliefs.

It was 2003 when he heard about the Virginia legislature's consideration of a resolution expressing "profound regret" for the closing of schools in Prince Edward County and the state's role in Massive Resistance. The School Board was considering awarding honorary diplomas to the adults, then in their 50s and 60s, who'd been locked out of school and robbed of the chance to earn a diploma.

Taking it further, Woodley conceived of a plan for state-funded scholarships for the casualties of Massive Resistance, to give them back the educational opportunity that had been denied them as children. He began implementing his idea by calling two legislators, House of Delegates member Viola Baskerville and Virginia state Sen. Benjamin Lambert, to see what could be done.

With the 2003 General Assembly session well underway, it was decided that they'd wait until 2004 to introduce legislation to create the scholarship-fund reparation program. In February 2004, former governors Linwood Holton, Charles Robb and Gerald Baliles issued a joint statement of public support with Gov. Mark Warner for funding the scholarship program.

"My biggest political asset was Governor Warner," Woodley recalls. "I had a relationship with him and key members of his staff, so I had access to him and he was willing to listen." The Republican speaker of the House at the time, William J. Howell, was another important ally, as was Democratic state Sen. Henry Marsh.

Luck or fate seemed to provide a helping hand at key moments. When social activist and Civil Rights pioneer Julian Bond was announced as the commencement speaker at Longwood University in 2004, Woodley contacted the school about speaking to Bond. Seated next to the renowned activist at lunch, Woodley used the opportunity to explain his plan.

"That's when [Bond] told me that if we were successful, the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program and Fund would be the first Civil Rights-era reparation in U.S. history," Woodley explains proudly.

What the scholarship program meant for victims of Massive Resistance varied because, as Woodley puts it, healing is so personal.

"The journey is long and difficult and only the wounded person can understand," he says.

Since the scholarship program began, it has directly helped around 250 casualties of Massive Resistance, people who'd been locked out of school as children and have used, or are still using, it to obtain an education they'd been denied.

"If it had only helped one person, it would have been worth every step," Woodley asserts. "But the reparation program also made Virginia's apology for Massive Resistance, the 2003 resolution of profound regret, far more meaningful. Far better to follow up 'I'm sorry' with 'And this is what we intend to do about it.'"

Woodley admits that his position as editor of the Farmville Herald gave him leverage and traction, not to mention a loud voice. Not only could he advocate the idea on the editorial page but even more importantly, he could gain access to powerful Virginia political figures because of his editorial position and lobby them personally and continuously. "They had to put up with me. As one senator observed, 'You don't pick a fight with a guy who's got all the ink.'"

When the Herald was sold in 2015, Woodley made the difficult decision to move on and it was then that he decided to write a book, "The Road to Healing: a Civil Rights Reparations Story in Prince Edward County" about the campaign for reparations. He'd kept all his notes, tapes, emails and newspaper clippings from the scholarship crusade, convinced that they documented a piece of American Civil Rights history.

On March 26, Woodley visits Chop Suey Books for a reading and book signing.

As for the logical next step in moving a national conversation on race forward, Woodley sees three steps that should executed in conjunction with one another: First comes a national apology for slavery and the Jim Crow segregation that followed. Second, a national Light of Reconciliation memorial on the Mall in Washington that would publicly and permanently display that apology. Third, a reparations program should be the equivalent of a domestic Marshall Plan to create sustained massive investments in education, health care, housing, economic development and infrastructure in rural and urban communities with significant black populations.

"This nation has never fully, formally and publicly apologized for slavery," Woodley insists. "Until we do that, genuine healing won't be possible."

A book reading and signing with Ken Woodley will be held Tuesday, March 26, at 6 p.m. at Chop Suey Books, 2913 W. Cary St. chopsueybooks.com.

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