In 1954, my brother, Vernon Gray Dudley, became the first African-American to enroll in an all-white Virginia high school.  Four years later, a month before becoming the first black graduate of an integrated Virginia high school, his Roanoke Catholic home room nun and several senior classmates triggered a firestorm over the unintended consequences of his ground-breaking achievement. The bishop had to came from Richmond to settle the issue and ensure fairness to Vernon.  

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Glendell N. Brooks, my mother’s first cousin, was an educator and administrator in Gaston County, NC. In the early 1980’s, he was elected mayor of the City of Gastonia, becoming the first African-American to do so.  

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In 1962, my brother, Richard Vaughan Dudley, chose Brown University’s full academic scholarship over similar offers from Notre Dame, Columbia and Howard Universities. My dad, a postal worker making $6K a year, then had two sons, unwelcome at quality segregated colleges nearby, attending distant Ivy League universities in the North. Yearly expenses for the two of us exceeded our dad’s annual salary.

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This isn’t the infamous 1930’s child superstar in the photo at left above. It’s my wife, Peggy Ann Jones, at two years of age. She was just as cute, just as charming and just as dramatic as movie icon Shirley Temple. With a few dancing lessons, who knows what might have been in a truly open society? What would have happened if she was on the cover of Collier’s magazine?

Alva Odell Whitworth, the youngest of my mother’s five siblings was only seven years old when the United States entered World War II. He was her only brother that didn’t serve in that war. Even so, he became a top Air Force photographer in the 1950’s before getting married and starting a family.

That’s me, Midshipman 3rd Class Thomas Dudley of Columbia University’s Navy ROTC in December 1962. In 1961, I had accepted Columbia’s full academic scholarship over those of Notre Dame and Howard Universities. In its 1961 article spotlighting eight local high school graduates, the Roanoke World-News described me as a “locker boy”, referring to my job at the Roanoke Country Club. It was demeaning, especially given that I had just received the largest academic scholarship in the city’s history to one of the premier colleges in the nation.

Education and White Supremacy: The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Kansas Board of Education triggered massive resistance to its mandate of integration at all deliberate speed.  The Roanoke, Virginia school board, committed to white supremacy, defied the Court, enforcing segregation for seventeen more years. Among that city’s many messages sent to black constituents affirming their status as separate and unequal, the school board consistently assigned used textbooks to all-black Lucy Addison High School that I attended and new textbooks to its white schools. Norman Rockwell, the nation’s “painter laureate” on the themes of patriotism and Americana, chose, like his peers, to exclude exemplary black images from his paintings and magazine covers, apparently in deference to white supremacy’s unwritten rules even as he sang the praises of America’s four freedoms, which include, ironically, freedom of speech.  Was Rockwell a hypocritical racist using his art to assert his social beliefs or a hypocritical liberal whitewashing his art to enhance his marketability to racist audiences?

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