This book tells the story of a Virginia community that defied the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling. When ordered by a federal court to desegregate the public schools in 1959, white leaders instead chose to close them.
The public schools would remain shut for five years, depriving hundreds of black children – and some white children – of an education. Students were sent to live with family, even strangers, in other counties, and even other states so they could attend school. Some children worked in the tobacco fields with their parents to help support their families. Many would never again return to a classroom.
It was a story Kristen knew little about as a child. She spent an idyllic childhood in Farmville, swimming with her three brothers in her parents’ pool and being doted on by loving grandparents. All her neighbors, teachers, and classmates were white. She had virtually no contact with blacks in her community, other than her family’s longtime housekeeper, Elsie Lancaster. She was completely unaware of the impact the school closures had had on black children, including Elsie’s daughter.
When Kristen decided to write about what had happened in her hometown, she used her journalistic skills to peel back the layers of the community’s complicated and shameful history. The result is the story of how Barbara Johns, a young, female student led a protest of the conditions at her black high school, resulting in a lawsuit that would ultimately become part of Brown v. Board of Education.
It is the story of a landmark Supreme Court case, and a white Board of Supervisors that voted to close schools rather than allow their children to attend class with black kids. And it is a story of how the affected children, their parents, and the entire community, would forever be changed.
Praise for Green's First Book
-The New York Times
"Her thoughtful book is a gift to a new generation of readers, who need to know this story just as they are learning about the Freedom Riders, the Birmingham bombings and the Edmund Pettus Bridge."
-The Washington Post
"This intimate and candid account…. personalizes politics, jangles nerves and opens minds."
"Green’s work brims with real-life detail from the journalist’s eye and ear and joins the likes of Diane McWhorter’s Carry Me Home in further developing the dimensions of the South’s desegregation struggle—particularly from the perspective of white communities—for general readers and scholars of the late 20th-century civil rights movement."
"Both intimate and ambitious, this is a far-reaching account of the political and social history of segregation and desegregation in Virginia that also reveals the very real human costs of this history. Moving and clear-eyed, damning and hopeful, this is an essential read."
-Jesmyn Ward, National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped
"Green feels compelled to stare down her past, and she does so with uncommon humanity."
-New York 1 News
"The story of integrating American public schools has gotten drowned out by the much louder, dramatic, and violent history of the Civil Rights movement. But no struggle is as heartrending as one involving children. Return with Kristen Green to her hometown in Virginia to find out how people she loved and admired could have supported such an injustice. You’ll be wiser if you do."
-Charles J. Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee
"An engaging and well-written book on the impact of school closures, told from a unique biographical perspective. Using her skills as a journalist to uncover the layers of history in her home town, Green delivers a deeply moving portrayal of one of the very sad histories in American race relations. This book is difficult to put down and a must-read."
-William Julius Wilson, Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor, Harvard University
"Mystery wrapped in history with a touch of suspense and personal horror: Kristen Green’s stunner of a book is a ride back into a past you’ll wish had never happened. This is historical sleuthing at its finest."
-Chris McDougall, author of Born to Run
"A potent introduction to a nearly forgotten part of the civil rights movement and a personalized reminder of what it was truly about."
-Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
"Absorbing. . . . A merger of history both lived and studied, Green’s book looks beyond the publicized exploits of community leaders to reveal the everyday people who took great risks and often suffered significant loss during the struggle against change in one ‘quaint, damaged community.’"
"Green has rendered a deeply moving account of historical injustice and a personal search for redemption for her family’s role in it."
-Booklist, (starred review)
"A vivid reminder of how things were, not so very long ago."
"It’s a story that still shames Virginia, and Richmonder Kristen Green tells it with candor, including her own family’s role."
Awards & Recognition
New York Times Bestseller in Education and in Race & Civil Rights
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Washington Post Notable Nonfiction 2015
Library of Virginia Literary Award for Nonfiction, 2016
Library of Virginia People's Choice Award for Nonfiction, 2016
Southern Indie Bestseller
Longlisted for 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Nonfiction
Booklist Editors' Choice: Adult Books, 2015
"Best Author" Richmond Magazine, Best & Worst of 2016
Literary Agent: Chad Luibl, Janklow & Nesbit cluibl at janklow dot com
Film Agent: Kristina Moore, UTA kristina.moore at united talent dot com
Speaking Inquiries: kristengreenauthor at gmail dot com