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Jean Konzal's, née Stein, Speech Upon Return From Prince Edward County



Jean Konzal's, née Stein, Speech Upon Return From Prince Edward County


This is the speech Jean Konzal, née Stein, gave when she returned from Prince Edward County, VA. A trip was organized to have a group of Queens College students set up a tutorial system for students who were denied an opportunity to go to school. She talks about the preparation that she and the Queens College students did before their departure as well as their journey in Prince Edward County.


Prince Edward County (Va.)
Student Help Project
Queens College (Queens, N.Y.)


Konzal, Jean L.




Queens College Department of Special Collections and Archives (New York, N.Y.)


c. 1960's

Date Created



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Spatial Coverage

Prince Edward County (Va.)


Undated speech given by Jean Stein upon return from Prince Edward County.
I’m very glad to be able to speak to you this evening. It hardly seems possible that it was
nine years ago that I graduated from this school. It also hardly seems possible that in a country such as ours, one that prides itself in a free and public education for all, almost sixteen hundred children were denied the opportunity to attend any school. Why was I allowed to attend a marvelous school such as this one when only five years later in Prince Edward County, VA so many children were to be denied this right? It was this question that made some Queens College students realize that everyone was responsible for the situation in Prince Edward County. Therefore it was everybody’s responsibility to do something about it.
The idea to organize a group of Queens College students to go to Prince Edward County to try to set up some kind of tutorial system was conceived by two students who then presented this idea to Dr. Simon of the Education Department in Queens College. It was then that the ball started rolling and a group of about fifty people started to work on this project. We had many problems to solve. First we had to raise money to cover living expenses and expenses for supplies. Then we had to try to collect books and supplies. Thirdly, we had to prepare ourselves for what to expect in this new environment. Fourthly we had to calm down our parents.
We solved each problem. We ran a benefit show at Carnegie Hall starring Dick Gregory, and we ran a faculty-student baseball game on campus. The combined profits plus contributions netted us $7,000, enough to cover our expenses.
We were very fortunate in obtaining books and supplies for our venture. Contributions and donations poured in from all over. By the time we were ready to leave we had a whole truck load of materials to take with us.
The next problem was the most important. We had to prepare ourselves, emotionally and
intellectually for this project. We had to learn why we really decided to participate. Were we sincere in our desire to help? Did we recognize the gains that we would make as individuals? What were the local customs and mores? Would we be able to adjust to them? To help us come to grips with these problems we held a two-day conference at Dr. Simon’s home. Those were two grueling agonizing days. We each analyzed our motives and tried to be truthful about them to one another. We had many resource people there who helped us to understand the sociological and cultural consequences of our project. Out of these two days came a core of sixteen students who fit together into a working unit who could function together as a group.
To prepare ourselves intellectually we held a series of seminars in techniques in teaching reading, arithmetic, art and recreational activities.
Our last problem we never really did solve completely. We did manage to calm our parents somewhat by deciding to be an educational group only and not participate in any demonstrations. We felt that if we did we would jeopardize our position as teachers in the Negro and white communities.
After approximately six months of preparation we finally arrived in Virginia. We all lived in the town of Farmville, the center of Prince Edward County, with Negro families. I lived with three other girls with an elderly couple and their two grandchildren. After a while we became part of the family. We were treated like their children and we felt towards them the same as towards close relatives. The color line seemed to disappear: We were no longer living with Negro people—they were just people. This closeness that developed and the understanding that we obtained of each other’s way could not have been gained in any other way than that of being in close contact with one another. You can’t really learn about others solely through books. You must be in contact with people in business, in school and at home in order to understand them as human beings. Those in the north who say that Negroes should have equal opportunities, etc., but not on my block or in my child’s school don’t really see these people as individual human beings. They are not interested in seeing them as people. Until we can break down segregated housing and education we will not be able to learn to understand Negro persons as being
individual human beings with the same needs and desires as all of us.
Through this experience we were able to see Negro persons as individuals and not as Negroes. In Farmville we participated completely in the life of the Negro community. We went to their churches and refused to do anything that they weren’t permitted to do. In a Southern town this means there are no movies to go to and no restaurants to go to. The only recreation available was the state park and lake for Negroes. We became completely identified with the Negro community. We began to look at ourselves as Negro. We learned some of what it meant to be a Negro in a Southern town. I learned from personal experience that if you are on the road and need a bathroom the Negro will have no place to stop. I learned that Chinese restaurants serve “Whites Only.” I learned what a sick feeling one can receive by a welcoming sign on a restaurant for “White Only.”
What was the reaction of the white community to us? We had some instances of open hostility; some tried to ignore us and pretend we didn’t exist. And most of them stared as though we were some hideous creatures. For the most part, with a few exceptions we had nothing to do with the white community. In this area we were guilty of perpetuating the stereotype of the Southern racist. We lumped them all together as prejudiced extreme racists. I don’t know if any friendly overtures would have been accepted, but we should have tried.
What was our educational program like? We worked with approximately 25 New York teachers from the U.F.T. Together we staffed nine centers and taught about 600 children. We taught in church buildings from 9 until 1. We taught children from the age of six through high school age. The older children, however, soon dropped out to participate in the demonstrations for their civil rights. Many of our tutors made special trips out in the evening to tutor those who participated in the demonstrations. The group that I, with a co-teacher, taught is typical of most groups. We had a group of eleven children, six of whom had been out of school for the full four years. The others had been sent out of the community for their education. I mainly worked with the six children who had not had any schooling. I spent two hours every morning teaching them reading and arithmetic. They were very receptive and learned quickly. They had a real desire to learn. They continually brought me more homework than I assigned. I had one thirteen year old boy who read on a third grade level who would skip recess so that he could study his work. I feel that the most important thing that we did for these children was to help them realize that they were important individuals. All of their lives they were told by the white society that they were worth nothing, that the only thing they should aspire to should be menial labor and in the past four years, that they weren’t even worth an education. Many of these children came to us as very shy, withdrawn, and suspicious children. By treating them as individuals who were as good as anyone else, we helped them to be able to see themselves as individuals equal to all. They became able to express their ideas confidently without fear of ridicule. My greatest thrill came when a child who had been completely withdrawn came proudly to me to show me something that he had made. The personal relationships developed between the children and us can be attested to by the amount of letters we are still receiving from Prince Edward County.
When we returned from VA with the good news of a private free integrated school for the children of Prince Edward County, we felt that we had gained as much, if not more, as the children we taught. We had learned to be able to see Negroes as individuals, we were much more aware of what it meant to be a Negro in the South, we learned to accept responsibilities as mature adults, and we gained and gave love to some 600 wonderful children.
About two weeks ago seven of us went back to VA to visit and to see the new schools in progress. We were secretly afraid to go back—what if they didn’t really remember us? However, when we got there we were wonderfully surprised. Everybody remembered us and we were quickly made to feel as though we had come home. While there we visited the schools and were greatly impressed by the success of the ungraded system employed at the school. We felt that the children were finally getting a fair deal.
While there we visited our foster parents. It was there that the need for personal contact between people was crystallized for me. Mr. Reid, my foster father, said to us that he was not sure how to act with us or what to expect from us when we first came. It took him quite a while, he said, to realize that we were no different from his own daughters—color had disappeared for him too.

Original Format

8.5 x 11 inches (216 x 279 mm)


Konzal, Jean L., “Jean Konzal's, née Stein, Speech Upon Return From Prince Edward County,” Queens College Civil Rights Archives, accessed May 17, 2022, http://archives.qc.cuny.edu/civilrights/items/show/296.