Griffin, Leslie "Skip"


Griffin, Leslie "Skip"


Segregation in education
Associations, institutions, etc.--African American membership
Race discrimination--United States
Prince Edward County (Va.)


Oral History Interview between Parker Mason and Leslie "Skip" Griffin, conducted on April 14, 2021.


Leslie "Skip" Griffin
Parker Mason


Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections


Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections



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Oral History




Prince Edward County (Va.)


Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections
Digital Repository materials are derived from the documents housed within Hampden-Sydney College Archives & Special Collections, and are made accessible to the public as historical record. Some materials within our collections may contain offensive images, language, or other content. They do not serve as a representation of views held by Hampden-Sydney College or the Walter M. Bortz III Library.


Parker Mason


Leslie "Skip" Griffin


Parker Mason 0:01
Okay, so Mr. Griffin, thank you for joining us...

Skip Griffin 0:05
What is this? What is this class for? I'm serious--I'm not..., I'm just interested how you got on to this. I mean...

Parker Mason 0:12
We're taking, we're actually, we have a whole class centered around The Voice newspaper and the whole Moton story. One credit course at Hampden-Sydney. And there's about eight of us in it. And we've got about two weeks left, but it's been really interesting.

Skip Griffin 0:27
Oh, yeah? Okay.

Parker Mason 0:28
Sir. So my first question for you is, what is your connection to Farmville? And did you grow up in the area?

Skip Griffin 0:36
Oh, yeah. My, uh, I'm the oldest son of Reverend L. Francis Griffin, who generally is considered to have been, you know, a leader, or perhaps the leader in the whole effort, you know, to desegregate schools in Prince Edward County. He was the pastor of First Baptist Church there on Main Street. I grew up, you know, I grew up in Farmville. My grandfather had lived in Farmville. My father lived in Farmville, so we were generational residents.

Parker Mason 1:14

Skip Griffin 1:15
I started school there. I did not finish there. But I went away to finish just because I needed a more rigorous offering.

Parker Mason 1:25
Yes, sir. Can you share any memories about being back in school after they reopened? I believe--was that? I believe it was...'64.

Skip Griffin 1:37
Yeah. So that's the period to which I refer. I started out high school in...I don't know, early '50s. I went to Mary Branch one. And then two, and I was in Mary Branch two, which is the building that's called the Moten. It was the original Moten building. And when I, by the time I reached, I think it was sixth grade, it was more or less the middle school facility. They had completed building in New Moton High School, which has now been re-modeled and I guess is the Prince Edward County High School. So I was in the in Mary--we called it Mary Branch two--and I was in the sixth or seventh grade when schools closed. And then I was out of school for a period of time...I did attend a free school which operated from '63 to '64. After that, once the, in my--I am, along with my sisters, were plaintiffs in the Griffin versus Prince Edward County case. And after the courts reordered the schools reopened, and they reopened, I actually left and went to Massachusetts and came here to Massachusetts and completed high school. So I didn't, I didn't actually go back to the public schools when they were reopened.

Parker Mason 3:03
Okay. So can you tell me a little bit about The Voice? And you know how the idea of the of the paper came about?

Skip Griffin 3:12
Well, there there were some representatives from the American Friends Service Committee, who worked with the youth and, you know, gave us opportunities to go to Washington and study Congress and other enrichment activities for some of the teenage and early teenage youth. And I think there were three or four of us, as I recall, James Ghee, who is an attorney there in Farmville, was one of the people I think a gentleman Carlton Terry was one. Jimmy White or James White, but he passed away about two or three years ago, I think he was one. Myself, and I don't, I don't, remem--there were two women, but I don't--two young, you know, teenage women. I don't remember who they were. And but, but I think the principal discussion started out with representative of the American Friends Service Committee, Nancy Adams, Ghee, Carlton Terry, myself, I think, I think Jimmy came, James White came in later.

Parker Mason 4:25

Skip Griffin 4:26
So we, you know, we were interested in, you know, we had studied the black press--I think at that time the papers that were distributed in Farmville would have included the Baltimore Afro American and the Norfolk Journal and Guide, which were two prominent black newspapers--and we thought that we could, we could create something that spoke just to the local scenes. I mean, you know, they would, they were, well...Baltimore was a solid regional paper. And then Journal and Guide, while based in Norfolk, they covered the whole Virginia and other things. So we were trying to fill in the gap for local news and also to offer opinion from the young people's perspective.

Parker Mason 5:21
Gotcha. And in our class, too, we've we've actually been lucky enough to read copies of The Voice. Dr. Emmons made copies for us, and we've got those digitally. If you would like me to send those your way.

Skip Griffin 5:37
That would be wonderful. I don't remember...I remember some things, but I don't remember a lot about what we actually put in there.

Parker Mason 5:44
Yes, sir.

Skip Griffin 5:45

Parker Mason 5:45
Yeah, I can definitely send you a couple copies. So do you, also do you know how the newspaper The Voice was funded?

Skip Griffin 5:54
Um, we actually, I think we got a small amount of money from the American Friends Service Committee from the budget they have, but we actually sold ads to the local black business, like--was it Master Cleaners that White, Mr. Reginald White, owned. Some of the stores, Mr. Coles had a little store there. Other things...we actually sold ads, and then we wrote letters to people from across the country, we actually solicited money on, we--that was a part of what running a newspaper was about. So we actually approached--we did most of the fundraising ourselves after the initial, very, very small...

Parker Mason 6:44
Sure. So what, what motivated you to write in this paper? Whether it..., was there an individual who played an important role in getting the paper started or that you were close to?

Skip Griffin 6:56
Well I think it was really an idea we had--some of us had met the black journalist Carl Rowan, and then we had all from time to time been involved in doing interviews around what our experience was like to be locked out of school. And for me, and maybe one and maybe, Carlton, we, we would...we read quite a bit. And I would say that the New York Times--especially the New York Sunday Times and The New York, I mean, and the Sunday Washington Post--were like textbooks. So we, and we had a familiarity with the major...with three or four major black newspapers too, as I said the Afro American, the Journal and Guide, the New York Amsterdam News. And then we would read Ebony, which wasn't really a magazine, Ebony and Jet, which were really, I mean, wasn't a newspaper but rather were magazines. And so we, we all were...understood the power of the press. And we thought that it was important to create our own story, and we wanted a story that was in the youth voice.

Parker Mason 8:21
Yes, sir. Who do you think was the main audience for The Voice as a whole?

Skip Griffin 8:29
Well, that's a good question. I don't actually know who read it, we distributed to the black community and in Prince Edward County. And that would be a great question, and it is probably is too late to determine with any degree of certainty. We wrote it for ourselves and for other young people. But we also were interested in distributing it to older people, so that they knew what we were thinking. And we had our own thoughts and own perspective on the events that were currently...that's a really good question. I--we didn't, we didn't think like that, in those days. We were really creating it for, as a vehicle for our expression and then wanting to distribute it to whoever would take it. I think today people start thinking about audiences. We weren't that sophisticated, you know?

Parker Mason 9:28
I gotcha.

Skip Griffin 9:30
That's new. That's new media stuff. You know, we try to determine your audience and targets...I mean, to be honest with you, we--it was more from our perspective, it was more our desire to create a vehicle to record our experiences relative to the events going on there, but then also to share things that we learned through reading and traveling and stuff like that.

Parker Mason 9:58
Yes, sir.

Skip Griffin 9:59
Yeah. That's a good question, though.

Parker Mason 10:03
What, what kind of events did you aim to cover in The Voice? Were there events that you wanted to write about, but you were not able to due to, maybe, censorship, or?

Skip Griffin 10:13
No, we were the censors [laughs]. You know, it was, it was a youth paper, you know, primarily, okay? So I would say we were the censors, I mean, we had, we didn't want to say anything incendiary, you know, we would, but, but there were no adults telling us that we couldn't write it, or we shouldn't write it, although we would, we would show it to them for content and for, maybe editing with respect to the tone and stuff like that. But we would, we would also, we would, we were the determiners of what went in the paper. So there was no adult censorship, but but we had some degree, or some sense of our responsibility to be, you know, to be reasonable about it. We weren't trying to start--we were just trying to talk and give a perspective on events, but not to be disruptive.

Parker Mason 11:17
What was, so what were some of the effects of getting the paper published? Do you think that the impact on the community was positive? Or were people talking about it in Farmville?

Skip Griffin 11:28
Well, I think people generally liked it and thought that we were...that it was clever, and that they were glad to see us trying to do something and to, you know, people sort of... adult people read something like Ebony and Jet magazine, which was popular national magazines, that would...people, it was a standard in a lot of households, they generally read--I think there was some people who made deliveries of the Afro American and the Journal and Guide. So people were familiar with reading. And they thought it was, I guess, kind of cute and interesting that we would take this on. And they liked some of what we had to say. And they thought maybe some of us would go on to be journalists.

Parker Mason 12:17
Yes sir. So during this time period, the federal government was creating a lot of funding for more access to education, through initiatives like Operation Catch Up, the Education Act of 1965, and a couple other programs. Were you aware of this new funding? And did it make a difference in the Prince Edward schools or with the paper itself?

Skip Griffin 12:42
We'd--in the paper, we, we ran it like any other paper, we weren't, we didn't get grants, we just sold ads and just made personal requests. So we didn't get any government money, at least to my knowledge, I don't remember getting government money. We didn't want--we wanted to be independent, and we wanted to, um...what's the term I'm looking for?--we wanted to be able to run something that was ours and to show that we could run it, you know. And so the four or five of us had a solid, independent streak in us and have gone on to do quite a bit of things. So I don't know what, how much of that money actually went into the school system in Prince Edward. But no, no government money went into the paper, at least to my knowledge, and it wasn't something that we were seeking after.

Parker Mason 13:37
Do you remember Operation Catch Up?

Skip Griffin 13:40
I remember, I don't remember what it did, I remember the term. Yeah.

Parker Mason 13:46
So, and you come back quite a bit to visit Farmville, don't you?

Skip Griffin 13:50
Yeah. Well, except in the last year. [Laugter]

Parker Mason 13:56
So my, one of my last questions to you is, how do you think Farmville has changed over the years since you've lived here?

Skip Griffin 14:03
Well, I think it's changed significantly. You know, so, one of the phrases that I--from the time I was young, and we were creating this paper and becoming aware of the movement and suddenly being involved at a level in the movement--one of the phrases that I've always found more meaningful is "towards a more perfect union." I don't know that one can attain perfection. I think you're an athlete, right?

Parker Mason 14:36
Yes, sir.

Skip Griffin 14:37
So it's kind of, it's kind of like a golf swing. You spend your whole life, even the pros trying to get that perfect swing, and you never quite get there, you know, you get close on some days. And so I think that Farmville, you, you know, there was a belief that if you had integration, say integration into public schools, integration in Longwood, integration in Hampden-Sydney, and, you know, integration in the workplace, that the sky would fall. Well, the sky didn't fall. And I think people have made some progress. Have we obtained--has Farmville obtained perfection? No. But I think, given what Farmville went through, I think it certainly could teach other localities some lessons, I think there's been an effort to, to make integration work. I don't mean that the people who opposed the integrated schools have suddenly become integrationist, but they haven't...they haven't violently opposed it. And I think the town moves towards, you know, moves towards a more perfect union. I think the recon-, the reconciliation efforts from the Board of Supervisors, the changes in Longwood, the changes in Hampden-Sydney, the changes in some of the businesses, black-elected officials, I think..., I think that if things go...if they haven't done, that Farmville has done well, you know, since the [unintelligible], you know, since, you know, they've gotten through the school closings, and I think some feelings of bitterness, pain, and stuff still linger. And I think that on all around. But when you look at the life in Farmville I think it's moved forward in a way that many communities haven't.

Parker Mason 16:38
Yes, sir. Have you been to the Moten museum before?

Skip Griffin 16:43
Oh, yeah, quite a bit. I was, I helped raise money for Moton. You know, I have contacts as a result of the kind of work I do. I've been, and I've helped raise money, and just followed it from its inception, yeah.

Parker Mason 16:59
We've been lucky enough to go there twice, just in this short semester. So it's been great. I didn't realize that, how much history was actually in Farmville.

Skip Griffin 17:10
Well, there is a lot of history, there is the history of the Moton and the whole struggle around, in the school system and the involvement of the initial group of students in Brown versus Board. And then there's the struggle, you know, around the closure of school and the fight and the struggle around issues of what kind of school system the state of Virginia would have. But then there's also a big history around, you know, this being the place where sort of the last battles of the Civil War took place, and, you know, you know, and then the presence of two institutions of higher learning--and then I always win contests, in trivia contests, you know, I guess what are you guys in 17, or something, one of the oldest schools in the country?

Parker Mason 18:00
One of them. I'm not sure what, how old it is--

Skip Griffin 18:03
But maybe even lower than that. But you know, so I think, I think that there's a lot, you know, there's a lot that's unusual about the locality.

Parker Mason 18:16
Yes, sir. So what would you want students to take away from your experience attending Moton and working on The Voice during this during this era?

Skip Griffin 18:25
Well, I think that, you know, there's quite a bit of debate about the role of the press right now. And I'm not, you know, I'm not trying to sway anybody's mind. I think that I happen to believe deeply...I spent a period of my professional career working for one of the largest newspapers in the country, back when newspapers mattered, at the Boston Globe here in Boston. I wasn't a writer, I was an executive. But I firmly believe that it's important for people to create vehicles that allow them to record and circulate their voice, their thinking, their ideas. I think that, I don't--a lot of people like to reduce democracy to simply going to the polls and voting. I think that's just one leg of the stool. I think, I think that press--and I don't--is the other leg and I think the press...I'm worried now that we have big corporate press, have big, you know, you know, conglomerate press, but I think that independent press, if you go back to the founding fathers, you probably could find as many newspapers as you found churches. I think that creating--and I guess maybe people use online formats now--but I think it's really important that you have as many voices out there as possible and then as an educated person, or any person, you have to learn to sift through and make decisions about what, what is presented in each one of those vehicles. But I think that a truly democratic country, one of the factors, or one of the aspects of it would be that you had the ability to express oneself and express it publicly, and then distribute your story and your thinking on how things ought to be.

Parker Mason 20:39
Yes, sir.

Skip Griffin 20:41
And that was one of the reasons we wanted to, we believed we were studying. Most of us are committed to democracy with a small d, and we were, we were committed to free expression. You know, I mean, the Farmville Herald in those days would be...hold opposite views about the course of history, but we still read it, because we thought that whatever you created, it would result from an interchange and between people holding different ideas, and that the ideas were important to reflect on and consider, to understand, reflect--to hear, understand, reflect on and consider, and you know, integrate into your approach to building community in one way or another. So I think the free, the vigorous exchange of ideas is one of the hallmarks of democracy. True democracy.

Parker Mason 21:47
Yes, sir. So you were at the Boston Globe for how?--for 15 years?

Skip Griffin 21:53
15-16 years, something like that.

Parker Mason 21:55
Do you think that, that working with The Voice sparked your interest, to go to work for the Boston Globe?

Skip Griffin 22:01
I think that--so to be honest, when I, when I was out of school, a couple of those five years when schools were closed, and my textbook, as I said, two of my textbooks were the Sunday New York Times and the Sunday Washington Post. And, and then, of course, people were always interviewing my father. So what piqued my interest and curiosity about newspapers, was the fact that I could glean so much stuff out of the Times and the Post. And I just thought--and back in those days, of course, we didn't have the internet. And we didn't have, you know, 24 hour news on TV--and so newspapers were important. They really mattered. And, you know, you would...and so that's where my first curiosity, I would say..., actually, The Voice was a result of my curiosity in newspapers that had been developed by reading the New York Times, The Post, and the black newspapers.

Parker Mason 23:08
Yes sir. And this my final question for you, what do you think are the big takeaways from the Prince Edward County, and Moton story overall?

Skip Griffin 23:19
Well, oh, that's a whole 'nother set of interviews [laughter]. I mean, whoa so that's an interview all in itself, several interviews. So the first is that--so there was leadership in the county, first at the school level of Barbara Johns and John Stokes, and John Watson and, and others who...and Samuel Williams, and Georgia[ [?] Barris and Edward Allen. So I would say, so...and then at the adult level was my father and other people and then aligning with the NAACP. And so I would say one takeaway, even though people tried to look for outside education, I don't, I was in close, and I don't, I don't adhere to that theory. One, one takeaway is that, that citizens have the capacity to step forward, organize themselves, and impact the course of history. So, I mean, you know, if you look at it, I'm not saying they were ordinary in the sense they weren't good students, but the students that are led to walk out are just ordinary citizens, ordinary young people. And so my first takeaway is that, you know, people often think that they don't have power, or the ability to influence and I have learned--I learned from that and over the years that, that people, ordinary people can do extraordinary things through stepping forward and voicing their concerns about issues and organizing with their neighbors and others to effect change. Second thing is that, you know, once you start that process, it's important to get your story out, either via some kind of newspaper or some kind of publication or some kind of writing, it's important to have, to vocally be able to speak your issue, but it's also important to be able to record stuff in the written fashion. So disseminating your ideas is important. Third thing, it's important to build a network of like-minded people, and so that they can help you to reflect on what you're doing, and so that you can face what you're doing in the whole scheme of what's going on.

Parker Mason 25:54
Yes sir.

Skip Griffin 25:55
And the fourth thing is to have a long view. I mean, I think that, you know, it's interesting, and I'll leave you with this, unless you have a few more minutes. You know, people talk about the United States of America, they talk about it, and then they say it was, you know, 1776. But, you know, the United States of America, as we know it now is a relatively new phenomenon, you know, states like Arizona and New Mexico, I forget the order, but many of those places didn't become states till as late as 1919. And then the two solid last states, Hawaii and Alaska, were added somewhere around '59 or '60. I don't know, I'm getting old so I forget things. So the 50 state configuration is 60 years old. The 48 state configuration is probably, is just now around 100 years old, in the scheme of world history, that's like a flickering of the eye. You know?

Parker Mason 25:58

Skip Griffin 26:00
I mean, we're not--the initial United States was, you know, very small and east of the Mississippi, maybe even less than that. So, so I think that you have to take the long perspective, you have a vision and a dream about possibilities, but things like, you know, we don't create communities and nations in 20 years, it's a generational thing. And so...and you have to have a long perspective. You know, Hampden-Sydney, didn't become Hampden-Sydney in 10 years, it becomes Hampden-Sydney in over a 200-some year period, you know.

Parker Mason 27:50
Right. I think those are some great takeaways. And, and like I said earlier, we've touched on those in class and really opened--it really opened up my classmates and I's eyes just because we...coming into Hampden-Sydney had no clue that that anything like this even happened in Farmville.

Skip Griffin 28:09

Parker Mason 28:10
It's really incredible, so.

Skip Griffin 28:12
Yeah. Yeah, no, I mean--I just think that it's...what it is, is that, you know, just ordinary citizens banding together and chall--and having a perspective and notion about the kind of community they want can effect change, but you have to have the discipline and you have to take a long view. And then you have to understand that there are others who hold contrasting views, and in a country like this, what eventually transpires will result from some interplay between those, and compromises, and integration, at the level of ideas of different perspectives.

Parker Mason 28:59
Yes, sir. Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Griffin.

Skip Griffin 29:03
My pleasure. My pleasure.

Parker Mason 29:05
And like I said, I'll send you those, those copies of The Voice. Sometime...I think we're going to get the link on Sunday afternoon. So I can email them to you if that works.

Skip Griffin 29:16
Oh, no, that's cool. So with what's in store for you after Hampden-Sydney?

Parker Mason 29:21
I'm not quite sure yet. I might, I might just do some some project managing stuff in the Richmond area, which is my hometown. But other than that, I'm not quite sure yet. Technically, I'm still a junior--technically, but it's a class with with a bunch of seniors, so.

Skip Griffin 29:42
Oh, so you don't graduate til '22?

Parker Mason 29:45
Yes, sir.

Skip Griffin 29:46
Okay. I thought you, thought you were on the way out this year. Yeah.

Parker Mason 29:52
I wish.

Skip Griffin 29:55
Yeah, but when you get down the road, you're gonna wish you could go back, you're gonna find they were probably some of the best years you had, man, you know?

Parker Mason 30:02
I'm sure. I've enjoyed them. I've enjoyed them.

Skip Griffin 30:04
Yeah. Alright, are you, you're actually on campus as well, I take it?

Parker Mason 30:09
Yes, sir. Yes.

Skip Griffin 30:12
All right then, glad to be of help and just have her send the thing I'm familiar with, you know, DocuSign or some online service. So you just have her send that to me.

Parker Mason 30:22
Great. Alrighty, Mr. Griffin, you have a good rest of the day.

Skip Griffin 30:25
You too.

Parker Mason 30:26
Thank you.

Skip Griffin 30:27

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Leslie "Skip" Griffin and Parker Mason, “Griffin, Leslie "Skip",” Hampden-Sydney College Digital Repository, accessed June 23, 2024,