Interview of Nancy Manson. Interviewed by George Gilliam, Mason Mills, of The Ground Beneath Our Feet project.

Nancy Manson served as one of the organizing parents in Charlottesville of the Parent's Committee for Emergency Schooling to provide students at Venable Elementary and Lane High School with temporary education during the school closing crisis in 1958-59.

This interview was taken in 2000 for "Massive Resistance," episode four of "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Virginia's History Since the Civil War," a production of George H. Gilliam and the Central Virginia Educational Television Corporation. George H. Gilliam is the Producer of the series, William G. Thomas, III the Assistant Producer, and Mason Mills the Director of Photography.

The transcripts represent what was said in the interview to the best of our ability. It is possible that some words, particularly names, have been misspelled. We have made no attempt to correct mistakes in grammar.

Mr. Gilliam: In May of 1958 the Charlottesville Educational Foundation announced its formation with the avowed purpose of having private segregated schools as an option in the event the schools were ordered to be integrated. In June of 1958, parents in the Venable School District were polled and a majority said that they would accept some desegregation. You lived in the Venable School District in the summer of 1958?
Ms. Manson: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: Could you, sort of walk me forward from the Summer of 1958 through the formation of your parents group and tell me what they did and how you provided alternative schools?
Emergency Mothers, PCES, Parents Committee for Emergency Schools
Ms. Manson: Our group were the officers of the PTA. We were the ten people that were on the Venable PTA, and so, of course, we were asked what we would do by the principal and by the teachers. And we said we don't know what we'll do, but we'll give it some thought because it did come, really, as quite a surprise. Maybe we had not been reading the paper very well, but we were surprised that the schools were going to be closed. And, so, from that point we began to meet at various houses to see what we thought could be done about the schools being closed. We did confer with the teachers. All of us knew our teachers quite well, and we talked with them as to what we thought - what they thought should be done, and then the concept of using people's private homes and letting the teachers teach there began the very good solution. And, so, we had talked with the teachers about staying with us and teaching our children in our own homes long before the Charlottesville Education Foundation said that they began to talk to teachers. We had all conferred with the teachers that were our children's teachers.
Mr. Gilliam: Now, as I understand it, the Charlottesville Educational Foundation's avowed goal was to maintain a system of segregated primary and secondary schools -
Ms. Manson: Yes.
Mr. Gilliam: What was the purpose of the Venable mother's group?
Ms. Manson: To keep the schools running with our children there. We did not want our children to be out of school for years as they were in Farmville.
Mr. Gilliam: What was your sense of the attitude - of the parents in your neighborhood to the idea of integration?
Ms. Manson: There were certain people who were dead set against it, and they were not going to give up an inch. And most of these people were a little older. It's amazing that all the presidents of the banks went with the CEF, but, because they began to change their mind when the economic reality began to hurt downtown, and eventually, I think the economics might have brought many of the people around to being willing to go to integration.
Mr. Gilliam: The white community, as I understand it, was - had several divisions. There was one group that you just described that was dead set against really any form of integration. What were some of the other alignments?
Ms. Manson: The private concern that Leon Durr started wanted to keep the schools desegregated, and I think that his plan was a tuition grant plan of some kind. It's rather difficult to remember all the plans because they seem to break out all through that summer.
Mr. Gilliam: Then, in your group - were more members of your group actively interested in Negro rights, or were they more interested in sort of keeping the public schools open?
Ms. Manson: I'd have to say, in all honesty, that my greatest interest, and I think the mothers that I worked with, are interested in getting our children in school, and that was primarily what we were interested in. I think all of us felt that the integration had to come. It was the wave of the future, and we were certainly going to not fight it, and we all had many, many good black friends that we were very fond of. So, I don't think that any of us were hard segregationists, and we were young and we sort of saw the next step in our lives as being what happened.
Mr. Gilliam: Had any of your group been active with the civil right's movement?
Ms. Manson: I can't tell you that. Two of the - three of the people in our group were married to lawyers, and I'm sure as I did, I heard talk of the cases going through the courts. Three of them were professor's wives teaching at the University. And, so, that they were a cross-section of the people in Charlottesville and had been gathered together just because they were elected to the Board of the PTA.
Mr. Gilliam: So, your group became aware, in the Summer of 1958, that the schools would probably not reopen in the Fall, and you wanted to keep educational opportunities available for your children. What were some of the things you had to plan for? Can you sort of walk me through how you lined up teachers, how you lined up classrooms, how you lined up books, and -
Ms. Manson: We were going to use the School Board plans, the School Board curriculum, the School Board's choice of books. We were not trained to do that, and that's why we dealt with the teachers from the very first, and we asked the teachers would they teach the children in our private homes because the building, the school buildings, were being taken away from us. And we each had - many of us had big recreation rooms that could easily have desks set in to them, and the teachers were really wonderful about just telling us what we needed. But we had nothing on our own that we were doing. We were just following the same plan that the teachers were given at the beginning of each year.
Mr. Gilliam: How were the teachers going to be paid?
Ms. Manson: Well, the pay - I don't think there was ever any doubt that the state would honor their contracts and that they would be paid by the state. And, when we met, down at Bill Pope's office with all of the teachers' representatives, to bargain for where those teachers were going to teach, I think that the Charlottesville Foundation was amazed that we had gotten as far as we had because we had made no public announcement that they would stay with us, we just assumed they would. And we had all summer been talking to them about how our children were going to be taught. And, when we met, Mr. Walker was the representative for the teachers, and he was a wonderful man who had taught my son, my two sons, in Lane High School. And, Mr. Walker told us exactly how to go about this. And, so, they said that they would like to teach with us. Very few of them went over to the Charlottesville Foundation.
Mr. Gilliam: So, by the end of the Summer of 1958, a number of parents had volunteered their rec rooms, you had teachers lined up, you had curriculum lined up -
Ms. Manson: Could get the books and the equipment. I think we did have to buy some of the equipment, especially for the younger classes. The crayons and so forth and so on. I'm not sure that we could get all of that from the schools, but we got a lot of it from the schools.
Segregated Academies
Mr. Gilliam: Was there ever any talk about getting the mother's group together with the Charlottesville Education Foundation group and try to combine forces?
Ms. Manson: Yes. They did have that meeting, and it was down at the - what was the name of Bill Pope's bank?
Mr. Gilliam: National Bank.
Ms. Manson: National Bank. It was down in the boardroom of the National Bank on Sunday morning, and I went down, Fred Morton went down, I think Ruth Katherine was with us. There were about five of us, and about four or five from the Charlottesville Foundation, and we met in the boardroom. And, I think that it was quite a shock to some of the members of the Charlottesville Foundation that we weren't going to just do what they wanted us to do. That we were going to keep our own schools, and that we would disband our schools the moment that the public schools opened.
Mr. Gilliam: What does the Charlottesville Education Foundation group say about how long they plan continue this?
Ms. Manson: I think they were going to do it indefinitely. They were creating schools that the children would go completely through, and the next generation would do the same. They never talked about having those schools just for a few months or one year. They were making permanent schools.
Mr. Gilliam: Were your schools, your basement schools, going to charge any tuition?
Ms. Manson: We charged every - let's see. That was in the high school. I was the secretary treasurer for the high school organization, and I think I charged $5 for every student and that money was supposed to be used for janitorial service and having substitute teachers in when a teacher was ill or something. And we stayed within that budget in the high school very easily. In the basement schools, I'm not sure that there was any charge because, of course, the basement was donated by the parent whose home it was. And, I'm not sure that there was any charge for the basement schools.
Mr. Gilliam: Did the Charlottesville Education Foundation charge tuition?
Ms. Manson: I'm not sure I know that. They, of course had to hire teachers. They couldn't get enough teachers. And, so, I know that they had to pay the teachers' salary for some of their teachers, and we had no expense that way.
Mr. Gilliam: What was the source of their funding?
Ms. Manson: I'm not sure I remember. I don't know whether they had fund raisers, or whether they asked people. There were some people that gave quite large amounts of money to them to buy land to put their school on, but I don't think we asked people for money. In the basement schools, I don't think we needed any money, and in the high school, because we were in churches, primarily, we collected the $5 a month. And, I'm sure, that if some child had been unable to pay it, I would have just said fine. I don't think we were even adamant about that. And, that money was only spent for substitute teachers and janitorial help.
Mr. Gilliam: When the governor of Virginia ordered the schools not to open in the middle of September, 1958, what then happened?
Ms. Manson: What was the first thing? We had already arranged with all the parents that had volunteered their homes, and we rented or collected - now we even got some chairs from the school. They let us take some of the desks out of the school to put in some of the basement homes, and we collected the books, and we all went to the various teachers and they got us the books that they were to use and the notebooks that they were to use. I can remember we had to buy some pencils and things like that, but we had to buy very little. But, we were completely governed by what the teachers told us to do.
Mr. Gilliam: How long did it take between the time the state took control of the schools and you all actually had kids come to your basement?
Ms. Manson: I think we started on the 15th of September, and we had been told that we'd have the meeting downtown with the CEF in August. So, that - it was probably two or three weeks that we had to get the schools ready.
Mr. Gilliam: I'm just looking at my notes here. On September 19th was the day that the high school and Venable Elementary School were closed. The School Board says that it had relinquished all authority to the governor. So, it was probably a few days after that.
Ms. Manson: Maybe some time after that.
Mr. Gilliam: Yeah. That would make sense. How long did your school stay open?
Ms. Manson: We were closed, I think, and the dates I'm not sure of, but it was in February. So, that we ran the schools for about six months.
Mr. Gilliam: The schools, public schools, reopened in February on a segregated basis, and then they reopened the following September on a minimally integrated basis. Did your schools ever reopened?
Ms. Manson: No. We didn't - we all disbanded, and when Julian Bond once said to me at some meeting you didn't stay long enough. That was a very good criticism of us because we were all very busy young mothers with lots of small children, and as soon as there was a school for our children to go to we just disbanded our schools because we had said from the very first that we would not run the schools a day after the public schools were opened.
Mr. Gilliam: Now, the Charlottesville Education Foundation schools closed when the public schools reopened on a segregated basis, and then the Charlottesville Education Foundation Schools reopened -
Ms. Manson: The next September.
Mr. Gilliam: - when the public schools opened on an integrated basis. What people did the Charlottesville Education Foundation attract to its schools since there were public schools otherwise available?
Ms. Manson: There were people in the community that would never have let their children go to an integrated school. They felt very strongly about it.
Mr. Gilliam: Were there people in your group who opposed integration, but opposed closed schools even more?
Ms. Manson: No. I don't think you can say that. I think that we were completely united in wanting a good public school system, and I was most impressed by the action that the black community used. They did not come to our schools. We assured them that we wanted them to come. We asked them to come, and I can remember talking with Mr. Bell and some other people, and they said no. They felt that it was better for our schools not to have integration then, and we said well, we were perfectly willing for them to come and we urged them to come, but they decided not to.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you - Did they say -
Ms. Manson: And, so, that was very, very interesting leadership during those years.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you know what their reason was for -
Ms. Manson: I think that they felt they just did not want to make it any more unpleasant than they had to. I think that they were very wise. They were probably wiser than we.
Mr. Gilliam: There are some who say that the so called segregation academies provided a safety valve that if that option had not been available that Virginia might have confronted some of the violence that -
Ms. Manson: I don't accept that because we saw no violence. We had no unpleasantness. We had nobody that threw anything or did anything that was unacceptable.
Basement Schools
Mr. Gilliam: Do you think that if the black students who elected to stay out of school all together during the fall, do you think that if those black students had elected to come to the basement schools that it would have changed the way the schools, the basement schools, were conducted?
Ms. Manson: I don't think so because we checked with each parent that we asked to open their home would they mind if they came. So, that we had cleared that very positively before the schools opened, and they each had said that they would like very much to have them come. That was no problem at all. So, we were completely ready for them to join our school in September when we opened, and were interested in the - The children didn't make that decision. Those were adult decisions that their lawyers and their supporters were making, but we wanted the children to know that we would have loved to have had them come to our school.
Mr. Gilliam: Some of the black tacticians decided, apparently from what I read, that it would weaken their legal position if they attended these basement schools. Was any of that discussed with you at the time?
Ms. Manson: No. Because we were amazed they did not come, and we just felt very strongly that we wanted to urge them that we would like to have them come. That was the division between the two big groups, and we felt nothing at all but that we hoped that they would come because we were doing this for the public school system and that we would not stay open a day after the - the public schools opened -
Mr. Gilliam: Which turned out to be the way it -
Ms. Manson: - which is exactly what we did.
Mr. Mills: The goal was to teach children and -
Ms. Manson: The goal was to teach children, and we were there because we were mothers of children. We were not politicians. We were not people that were there to make a place for ourselves in the community. Our interest was primarily the children.
Mr. Mills: Black or white.
Ms. Manson: Black or white.
Mr. Gilliam: Nancy, the white community was divided in several different groups. The, sort of, more liberal we want integration group. The moderate group that said we grew up in a segregated society but we want to keep the public schools open, we will accept segregation if that's what we have to do. And then there was the group that said we will never accept any level of integration. Have those divisions in the white community been repaired, and if so, how long did it take them to heal over?
Ms. Manson: Well, it certainly did take a few years to become easier, but I think today it's amazing when I think back about what it was when my children went to college, but my children made me a more liberal person. I mean, this is probably what happens always. The young people hurry the older people into being a little bit less backward.
Mr. Gilliam: Did your children have an easier time making friends in the black community as a result of your experiences?
Ms. Manson: Well, I hope it's just that they never had any trouble making friends in either community, and I don't think that the young people think one thing about it. I think that they judge everyone on their own merit, and don't think in terms of what color they are, or where they live, or what they eat, or things like that.
Mr. Gilliam: That's taken us forty years.
Ms. Manson: Well, but, that's not a terribly long time.
Mr. Gilliam: Okay.
Mr. Mills: The only question I can think of is can you remember how it felt during that time? Did you feel this was a crisis or did you feel this was just something that was happening at the time, was the sign of the times, and you just moved on, you know?
Ms. Manson: Well, I think that it was certainly all over the United States, and we had parents who were very concerned about it much more so than we ever were concerned. I think that living at that period it did open our eyes to how important it was for everyone to be accepted on their own merit and not be judged by someone else. I think it was very good for me for the first time in my life to be - to have people walk across the street so they wouldn't have to speak to me, and there were people in Charlottesville who would walk across the street instead of speaking to me because my name was mud at that point. There were people who really did not want to even speak to me because I had done something they disapproved of, and they were probably the older people.
Mr. Gilliam: And you look like such a sweet motherly -
Ms. Manson: Well I looked a little better then, some years ago.
Mr. Mills: You were a mom at the time?
Ms. Manson: Yes.
Mr. Mills: Well, how did you feel personally about your children going through this?
Ms. Manson: I don't think it hurt them one bit. I think it made them finer people.
Mr. Mills: Go ahead.
Mr. Gilliam: But the man who owned the newspaper was my next door neighbor, and he disapproved heartily of what I was doing and tried very hard to talk me into not doing it. But, I mean, there was just no question in my mind that I would like very much to see the public school system be strong and involving all children in the community.
Mr. Mills: At the time when you were going through it, did you think it was a good thing?
Ms. Manson: Yes. It was a very good thing. It was not going to be easy, and I think we all knew that because, you know, there were letters written saying things that weren't very nice about us. So, that we were all aware that we were on the side that was often not the popular side at that time, but we were, none of us, physically abused.
Mr. Gilliam: Good.
Mr. Mills: Ma'am, I'm just curious-
Mr. Gilliam: That's just great. Just wonderful.
Mr. Mills: I'm just very curious of that moment of time. You know, you look back and you say oh, well, you know, all of those are good things, but at the moment they closed the school -
Ms. Manson: It was not a good thing.
Mr. Gilliam: But you were prepared?
Ms. Manson: Yes. But we had not been prepared for long periods of time. We, you know, we're - as I told you the other day, it was very interesting to me when I talked with Julian Bond that Julian said, Nancy, you left too early. And it's true. We did leave too early. We didn't stay and fight after - I mean, we all knew what our own convictions were, and we wanted very much to help the blacks and the whites be able to intercommunicate. But, I didn't go down and march in the street, and Julian said I marched all of those years. Well, I admire him for doing it, but I was not going to march.
Mr. Gilliam: You were raising children.
Ms. Manson: I was busy, but I was not a politician, I was not a professional. I cooked and I washed the clothes and I did those kinds of things. That's what I did, and - but I do criticize myself for not being more involved after that time.
Mr. Mills: Okay.
Mr. Gilliam: Good.
Ms. Manson: Good. [Laughter].
Mr. Mills: No that's, you know, it's just- it is very educational -

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