Southampton Academy has come a long way

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, February 23, 2011

by Marshall Rabil

When I was a student at Southampton Academy in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I did not have any knowledge or understanding of the history of the school or Southampton County in general.

I knew that schools were integrated in the ‘60s, but had no idea that Southampton Academy was a “white flight” institution, or “segregation academy.”

As far as I knew, the school had been around forever and was not created to combat Brown versus Board of Education, which resulted in the desegregation of public schools.

Many of the schools in the Virginia Commonwealth Conference were created for this purpose.

I recently learned that Prince Edward Academy in Farmville, known as Fuqua School today, was founded as a result of the 1959 Board of Supervisors of Prince Edward County’s refusal to appropriate any funds to the county School Board. This essentially closed all of the public schools instead of integrating them, which lasted for five years.

No other county in the country took such extreme measures to fight the Supreme Court ruling of Brown versus the Board of Education.

For the white students to receive schooling, the Prince Edward Foundation was created. This foundation was funded by tuition grants from the state and tax credits from the county, which created a private school to educate the county’s white children.

The black students had to find somewhere outside of the county to be educated, or not go to school at all.

Since the founding of Prince Edward Academy in 1959 and Southampton Academy in 1969, the philosophy of education has drastically changed. On Feb. 11, 2011, I was proud to be a member of the faculty at Southampton Academy.

To celebrate and honor Black History Month, Headmaster Dr. Mercer Neale organized a symposium on Nat Turner. Speakers were Bruce Turner, a descendant of Nat Turner, and Rick Francis, who is a descendant of some of the victims from the “Insurrection, Rebellion, or Revolution” that took place in Southampton County in 1831.

These two men did a fabulous job outlining the events, but it was also impressive to bring these two sides together to discuss this amazing history in an educated and civil manner at our school.

Whether one views the actions of Nat and his followers as heroic or villainous is left to personal opinion, but this event was certainly fundamental in the abolitionist movement. It brought international attention to the horrors of slavery, and struck fear in slave owners throughout the South.

Although it took another 32 years before Lincoln made his Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery, Southampton County can be proud to have such a rich history in the pivotal times of our country’s struggle for Civil Rights and freedom for all.

Even though Southampton Academy’s history as a “segregationist academy” cannot be denied, the philosophy of the school has changed to welcome diversity and encourage growth, cooperation and understanding amongst all races. The symposium that took place this month exemplifies this change and new direction the school is taking.

MARSHALL RABIL teaches at Southampton Academy in Courtland. His email address is