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Civil Rights conference brings national figures to South Boston

Several national figures will come together in South Boston for the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail Conference on Thursday.

Scheduled at The Prizery from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., this one-day conference will bring together tourism officials, elected officials, economic development leaders, planning district commissioners, site owners and others with an interest in preserving, enhancing, and promoting the Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail (CRIEHT).

The trail is a cultural and historical heritage trail managed and marketed by Virginia’s Retreat, a 14 county tourism marketing consortium. 

All sites on the trail played a prominent role in the education of African-Americans, Native Americans and women for whom access to education was denied or limited in Virginia before and during the Jim Crow era (1875-1965). 

The CRIEHT currently has 41 sites in the 14 counties in southern Virginia and is accessed as a self-guided driving tour (map and site listings available from the tourism offices in each county).

Currently, trail sites include the Robert Russa Moton Museum (Farmville), Boydton Academic and Bible Institute (Boydton), Blackstone Female Institute  (Nottoway), and the Earliest Known Public High School for African Americans in Virginia (Petersburg).

To understand the significance of the trail, one only has to look at The Moton Museum which is located in the former Moton High School. The Moton High School is recognized today as a nationally significant site in the history of the civil rights movement. It was the site of a conflict over the essential issue of equal education for all Americans.

This student-organized strike that occurred at the school in April 1951 led to the federal court case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, which was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States as part of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

“The sites on the Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail really are cultural heritage treasures, and this conference will be pivotal in helping preserve, enhance and expand the trail,” said Catherine Stevens, conference coordinator.

Although marketed since 2008 by Virginia’s Retreat, the potential of the trail as a historical asset and tourist destination has yet to be reached.  Through collective effort and attention to lessons learned from other cultural heritage trails, The Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail is poised to gain regional and national attention.

The Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail Conference seeks to build momentum and exposure for the cause of propelling the trail on the national scene.

“In the same way that the Civil War Trails and the Crooked Road have a very positive economic impact on their respective regions, so do we anticipate the Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail will be an economic driver for our region, when it is recognized for its cultural heritage and tourism value,” Stevens continued.

The conference promises to be a worthwhile event with a lineup of dynamic speakers who will address a number of engaging topics.

The conference runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and includes plenary sessions, breakout panel sessions in three tracks (The National Perspective, A Trail’s “How To,” and Agency Support), breakout facilitated discussion sections and lunch with keynote speaker Secretary of Commerce and Trade James Cheng.

The day will end with closing speaker Sen. Mark Warner.

“We have a powerful lineup of speakers who will bring a wealth of expertise in the development and preservation of cultural heritage sites as tourism destinations.”

In addition to Senator Warner and Secretary Cheng, confirmed conference speakers include Virginia Senator Frank Ruff; Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of Virginia Tourism Corporation; Carl Westmoreland, senior advisor for Historic Preservation at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati, OH); Mitch Bowman, executive director of the Virginia Civil War Trails; and Todd Christensen, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Cultural Heritage Commission.

“Conference participants should look forward to a day of rich presentations and dialogue about how we can move the Civil Rights In Education Heritage Trail forward,” Stevens said.

The Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail Conference is hosted by the Robert Russa Moton Museum and Virginia’s Retreat with sponsorship from the Dominion Foundation, The Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Commission, Virginia Tourism Corporation, Moton Museum, Virginia’s Retreat, and the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center.