Black education in Montgomery County, Virginia, 1939-1966

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Virginia Tech

Black education was unique in Montgomery County, Virginia, during Jim Crow segregation because African American students were able to attend Christiansburg Institute (C.I.), a black secondary school with an excellent reputation. C.I. initially emphasized vocational education, but in the late 1940s administrators expanded the curriculum to include a college preparatory program.

C.I. nurtured black activism and culture. Because it was a regional school, it facilitated the development of an extended black community. Blacks organized first for equalization within segregated schools, and then they challenged segregation itself.

After the Supreme Court declared school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), white Virginians resisted desegregation. White Montgomery County residents were committed to segregation, yet they were unwilling to commit to Virginia's "massive resistance” to integration. Desegregation came quietly and relatively quickly to Montgomery County due to bi-racial cooperation, a comparatively small black population, and the growth of the state university located in the county.

Once integration was complete in 1966, the county closed C.I. White Virginians, especially those in eastern Virginia, fought so hard to avoid desegregation; yet in Montgomery County it was black residents who paid the highest price for integration -- their school. An institution that held high expectations for its graduates, while providing them with the tools to succeed in a segregated world, is now gone. This thesis explores the costs, the benefits, and the process of desegregation in one predominantly white county in western Virginia.