Spotswood High School students premiere documentary ‘Knocking Down Walls’

Published: May. 26, 2023 at 12:03 AM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Beau Dickenson said in 1951 there was a student strike evolving into the court case Brown v. Board of Education which impacted the whole country, and he said some schools in Virginia shut down for years.

“We discovered that there were subsequent cases to then enforce Brown one of which is in Prince Edward that unfortunately, tragically led to actual school closures, actually there for five years and there were other school closures in Virginia in Warren County, Front Royal as well as Charlottesville City,” Beau Dickenson, social studies supervisor for Rockingham County Public Schools said.

He said they had a unique connection to Rockingham County.

“It begged the question of ... those were court cases obviously, where were those court cases handed down? They were handed down Main Street in Harrisonburg at the federal courthouse by Judge John Paul in 1956,” Dickenson said.

Students at Spotswood High School dug deeper into how a local judge made such an impact on schools across the Commonwealth.

“We were able to interview Judge Paul’s nephew ... so his perspective was very interesting and obviously very compelling given that this was a relative and someone that I think was a great mentor to him given that he goes into a similar field his perspective was invaluable,” Dickenson said.

They were even able to get first-hand accounts from those in the courtrooms.

“We discovered actual still living plaintiffs as young people, as teenagers forced the opening and desegregation of Virginia’s public schools,” he said.

The students worked over the course of a year to put together a documentary on their findings.

It premiered Thursday night at Court Square Theater.

Dickenson said it was a great opportunity for students to tell a story that has yet to be told.

“The greatest significance for them is meeting these historic figures who are willing to share these pivotal stories and testify about their own lives and lived experiences those experiences weren’t great experiences,” Dickenson said.

The documentary will be available to view on Rocktown History’s website.