On this day fifty years ago, U.S. attorney general Robert F. Kennedy spoke at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky, on the occasion of the Emancipation Proclamation’s centennial. As you might expect, the civil rights movement came up. Twelve years earlier, students at Robert Russa Moton school in Prince Edward County had struck for better conditions, and the need for better education continued to be acute:
We must achieve equal education opportunities for all our children regardless of race. Segregated schools cause educational as well as psychological difficulties an the resulting rain on our greatest resource—the spirit and knowledge of our children—must be eliminated.
We may observe, with as much sadness as irony that outside of Africa, south of the Sahara where education is still a difficult challenge, the only places on earth known not to provide free public education are Communist China, North Vietnam, Sarawak, Singapore, British Honduras—and Prince Edward County, Virginia.
Some sources, including for a time, Encyclopedia Virginia, include an additional sentence at the end of this paragraph: “Something must be done about Prince Edward County.” But our research has shown no evidence that Kennedy actually said this, and the Department of Justice’s copy of the remarks does not include it.