The governor on Wednesday pledged $2 million to fund scholarships for students denied an education when public schools across the state closed rather than integrate in the late 1950s.
Gov. Mark R. Warner signed a bill creating the program, then told nearly 200 black residents from Prince Edward County gathered on the steps of the Capitol that “Virginia got it wrong, we got it incredibly wrong.”
The county in the south-central part of the state was the site of the longest school shutdown in the country to avoid racial integration, from 1959-1964.
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said about 250 to 350 former students, now middle-aged, could receive several thousand dollars each.
The money could be used toward a high school diploma, a GED certificate, career or technical training, or an undergraduate degree from a Virginia college.
One victim of the school shutdown, John Hurt, said he would use the money to improve his skills so he could get a better job with the Virginia Department of Transportation, where he works.
Hurt, now 54, was in the first grade when Prince Edward County closed its schools in 1959.
He was out of school for five years, then returned for two, only to drop out because he was so far behind.
Hurt learned to read and write as an adult.
Several public school systems across Virginia shut their doors rather than integrate.
But no others were closed as long as those in Prince Edward.
Public money was used to start a private all-white academy in the county, while blacks and some poor whites either left home to continue their education elsewhere or did not go to school at all.
The Supreme Court ordered Prince Edward to reopen its public schools in 1964.