Griffin vs School Board

Griffin Vs. School Board

U.S. Supreme Court

GRIFFIN v. SCHOOL BOARD, 377 U.S. 218 (1964)

377 U.S. 218 

No. 592.
Argued March 30, 1964.
Decided May 25, 1964.

This litigation began in 1951 and resulted in this Court’s holding in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), that Virginia school segregation laws denied the equal protection of the laws and, after re-argument on the question of relief, the remand to the District Court a year later for entry of an order that the Negro complainants in Prince Edward County be admitted to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis “with all deliberate speed.” Faced with an order to desegregate, the County Board of Supervisors in 1959 refused to appropriate funds for the operation of public schools although a private foundation operated schools for white children only, who in 1960 became eligible for county and state tuition grants. Public schools continued to operate elsewhere in Virginia. After protracted litigation in the federal and state courts, the District Court in 1961 enjoined the County from paying tuition grants or giving tax credits as long as the public schools remained closed and thereafter, refusing to abstain pending proceedings in the state courts, held that the public schools could not remain closed to avoid this Court’s decision while other public schools in the State remained open. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the District Court should have awaited state court determination of these issues.

 Efforts to desegregate Prince Edward County’s schools met with resistance. In 1956 Section 141 of the Virginia Constitution was amended to authorize the General Assembly and local governing bodies to appropriate funds to assist students to go to public or to nonsectarian private schools, in addition to those owned by the State or by the locality. [1] The General Assembly met in special session and enacted legislation to close any public schools where white and colored children were enrolled together, to cut off state funds to such schools, to pay tuition grants to children in nonsectarian private schools, and to extend state retirement benefits to teachers in newly created private schools. [2] The legislation closing mixed schools and cutting off state funds was later invalidated by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, which held that these laws violated the Virginia Constitution. Harrison v. Day, 200 Va. 439, 106 S. E. 2d 636 (1959). In April 1959 the General Assembly abandoned “massive resistance” to desegregation and turned instead to what was [377 U.S. 218, 222]   called a “freedom of choice” program. The Assembly repealed the rest of the 1956 legislation, as well as a tuition grant law of January 1959, and enacted a new tuition grant program. [3] At the same time the Assembly repealed

In June 1959, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit directed the Federal District Court (1) to enjoin discriminatory practices in Prince Edward County schools, (2) to require the County School Board to take “immediate steps” toward admitting students without regard to race to the white high school “in the school term beginning September 1959,” and (3) to require the Board to make plans for admissions to elementary schools without regard to race. Allen v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 266 F.2d 507, 511 (C. A. 4th Cir. 1959). Having as early as 1956 resolved that they would not operate public schools “wherein white and colored children are taught together,” the Supervisors of Prince Edward County refused to levy any school taxes for the 1959-1960 school year, explaining that they were “confronted with a court decree which requires the admission of white and colored children to all the schools of the county without regard to race or color.” [6] As a result, the county’s public schools did not [377 U.S. 218, 223]   reopen in the fall of 1959 and have remained closed ever since, although the public schools of every other county in Virginia have continued to operate under laws governing the State’s public school system and to draw funds provided by the State for that purpose. A private group, the Prince Edward School Foundation, was formed to operate private schools for white children in Prince Edward County and, having built its own school plant, has been in operation ever since the closing of the public schools. An offer to set up private schools for colored children in the county was rejected, the Negroes of Prince Edward preferring to continue the legal battle for desegregated public schools, and colored children were without formal education from 1959 to 1963, when federal, state, and county authorities cooperated to have classes conducted for Negroes and whites in school buildings owned by the county. During the 1959-1960 school year the Foundation’s schools for white children were supported entirely by private contributions, but in 1960 the General Assembly adopted a new tuition grant program making every child, regardless of race, eligible for tuition grants of $125 or $150 to attend a nonsectarian private school or a public school outside his locality, and also authorizing localities to provide their own grants. [7] The Prince Edward Board of Supervisors then passed an ordinance providing tuition grants of $100, so that each child attending the Prince Edward School Foundation’s schools received a total of $225 if in elementary school or $250 if in high school. In the 1960-1961 session the major source of financial support for the Foundation was in the indirect form of these state and county tuition grants, paid to children attending Foundation schools. At the same time, the County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance allowing property tax credits up to 25% for [377 U.S. 218, 224]   contributions to any “nonprofit, nonsectarian private school” in the county.

In 1961 petitioners here filed a supplemental complaint, adding new parties and seeking to enjoin the respondents from refusing to operate an efficient system of public free schools in Prince Edward County and to enjoin payment of public funds to help support private schools which excluded students on account of race. The District Court, finding that “the end result of every action taken by that body [Board of Supervisors] was designed to preserve separation of the races in the schools of Prince Edward County,” enjoined the county from paying tuition grants or giving tax credits so long as public schools remained closed. [8] Allen v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 198 F. Supp. 497, 503 (D.C. E. D. Va. 1961). At this time the District Court did not pass on whether the public schools of the county could be closed but abstained pending determination by the Virginia courts of whether the constitution and laws of Virginia required the public schools to be kept open. Later, however, without waiting for the Virginia courts to decide the question, [9] the District Court held that “the public schools of Prince Edward County may not be closed to avoid the effect of the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court, while the Commonwealth of Virginia permits other public schools to remain open at the expense of the taxpayers.” Allen v. County School Board of Prince Edward [377 U.S. 218, 225]   County, 207 F. Supp. 349, 355 (D.C. E. D. Va. 1962). Soon thereafter, a declaratory judgment suit was brought by the County Board of Supervisors and the County School Board in a Virginia Circuit Court. Having done this, these parties asked the Federal District Court to abstain from further proceedings until the suit in the state courts had run its course, but the District Court declined; it repeated its order that Prince Edward’s public schools might not be closed to avoid desegregation while the other public schools in Virginia remained open. The Court of Appeals reversed, Judge Bell dissenting, holding that the District Court should have abstained to await state court determination of the validity of the tuition grants and the tax credits, as well as the validity of the closing of the public schools. Griffin v. Board of Supervisors of Prince Edward County, 322 F.2d 332 (C. A. 4th Cir. 1963).


The Rev. L. Francis Griffin, Sr. lived and worked in rural Prince Edward County.  He was one of Prince Edward County’s religious leaders who fought for better schools for African Americans.  Married to Mrs. Adelaide P. Griffin and the father of six school age children he attracted national attention for his vision, courage and leadership.

He was born in Norfolk, Virginia on September 15, 1917 and died on January 18, 1980.  After serving his country in World War II, he came to Prince Edward County to become the pastor of First Baptist Church.  There is a statue in his memory on a main thoroughfare in Farmville appropriately identified as the “Fighting Preacher”.


  The Reverend L. Francis Griffin-

… if you’re looking at it on a national scale, I’d say we won a victory. I believe you could say the black people of Prince Edward County saved the public schools of the South, particularly in Virginia Had we given in, I think perhaps massive resistance might have become the order of the day throughout the South. So in that sense we won a tremendous victory.

 blacks would not tolerate an ox cart education in the space age. –1961

I’m certain by remaining adamant through the long-struggle, Prince Edward blacks saved public education in this nation.-  The Reverend L. Francis Griffin