Where is Farmville? This Virginia debate town with a dark past is looking for a bright spot on the national stage
The tiny town of Farmville does not even amount to a spit on the map of Virginia, perhaps a fitting backdrop for a vice presidential debate that is being drowned out by the clanging of the presidential nominees.
But in addition to charming brick warehouses, furniture stores, wooded views of the river and two small private colleges, the town is rich in history.
The Civil War ended here and the era of segregation lingered in Prince Edward County longer than almost any other place in the United States.
The county, which had been a party in Brown vs. Board of Education, decided to close its public school system rather than integrate it when the Supreme Court struck down segregation in 1959. Unlike other integration holdouts, which quickly reopened their schools, the Prince Edward County schools remained closed for five years. Many black children were forced to move or denied an education altogether.
White children were sent to a state-supported private school.
"Prince Edward Academy became the prototype for all-white private schools formed to protest school integration," according to the Virginia Historical Society.
Even after the public schools reopened, when the Supreme Court struck down state grants given to private schools, de facto segregation lingered for decades.
But the county also has changed. An editorial in Monday's Roanoke Times argues that Farmville and the surrounding county "tells a story about the nation."
The piece points out that among many changes here, voters last year elected Megan Clark as the county attorney, the first woman and African American to hold the post. Clark's parents were denied a public education here for five years, with her mother forced to attend school in a neighboring county.
"Keep breaking down walls and keep building bridges," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said in an interview Tuesday, when asked about the significance of holding the debate in Farmville. "These are signs of progress and signs of hope."
People in the town of 8,000 residents seem genuinely excited to reemerge on the national stage. There was celebration over the weekend to mark the repainting of an old Coca-Cola mural, and many friendly smiles from people who work in the stores along Main Street.