In 1967, VES became the first boarding school in Virginia—and among the very first in the South—to integrate, and the school remains a warm and inclusive community today.
VES, under the leadership of Headmaster Austin Phillips Montgomery and with the support of Bishop William H. Marmion of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, the Board of Trustees, chaired by Henry M. Sackett, Jr., after full and at times very contentious consideration of the matter, decided to allow these students to apply for admission. Two students, William Alphonso Alexander of Nashville, Tenn., and Marvin Barnard of Richmond, Va., matriculated to VES in the fall of 1967 and became the first two black students to attend VES. For the next four years Bill and Marvin were leaders in all aspects of life at VES, including being consistently ranked numbers one and two in class standings based on grade point averages, holding leadership positions in the school and contributing significant athletic accomplishments. Bill and Marvin were also role models of strength of character and of grace under what were the very challenging pressures of being pioneers in the area of racial integration at the private, secondary school level, and they served as mentors to subsequent black students admitted to VES. There were a total of six additional students, specifically Jerrauld C. Jones ’72, Johnny Holloway ’72, Wilbert Terry Sherrill ’73, Gregory Nathaniel Prioleau ’73, Anthony Leroy Johnson ’74, and Arnald B. Crews ’74, who subsequently attended VES with the support of the Stouffer Foundation. These individuals have gone on to great accomplishments, including serving as physicians, attorneys at law, judges, ministers and business executives, as well as giving back in their communities. VES now has a student body that is 9 percent black and that is 26 percent non-white with many diverse cultures represented, demonstrating the commitment of VES to being inclusive of all races and cultures.
For a full year—beginning with our Centennial Celebration in September 2016,—VES has worked alongside Dr. Marvin Barnard ’71, Dr. Bill Alexander ’71 and Mosi Secret, a New York-based journalist, as Mosi researched and crafted a compelling story, published in the New York Times Magazine September 2017 Education Issue.
This New York Times Magazine article is so very important. I ask that you pause and take time to read it and listen to the audio story on This American Life.
We read the article with a sense of pride, compassion and empathy, but mostly we feel inspired by the fortitude and resilience of these pioneering young men and the courage that VES demonstrated to be a leader in integration in Southern boarding schools. The VES of today was shaped by the indomitable will and spirit of these “Magnificent Eight” pioneers, and we are a stronger, smarter and much more interesting community as a result of the diversity that we now enjoy. We are proud that our school continues to guide students to think beyond themselves and that we work diligently to improve the experience and education for every student who passes through Jett Hall.
We are recognizing the 50 years since that pivotal moment of integration at VES by spending the 2017-18 school year leading a meaningful dialogue on race relations—looking back at the history within our school, grappling with the issues still at the forefront in our country today, and looking forward as we seek solutions. VES hosted the first Dare to Imagine a Better World Dialogue: Breaking Down Racial Barriers, with New York Times Magazine contributor Mosi Secret moderating discussions with our students and faculty and, in the evening, conducted a panel discussion with our larger VES community, including alumni, parents and friends of VES. Drs. Bill Alexander ’71 and Marvin Barnard ’71, along with former faculty Nat Jobe and Jim Hopkins, joined us, along with seven of the eight Stouffer Scholars who led the way for integration at VES.