Ghee, James


Ghee, James


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


Oral history interview between Aaron Moorer and James Ghee, conducted on April 26, 2021.


James Ghee
Aaron Moorer


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.


Aaron Moorer


James Ghee


Aaron Moorer 00:00
Let's start out by telling us, what's your connection to Farmville? And how was it like growing up during your childhood?

James Ghee 00:10
I am a native of Farmville. I grew up on South Street, in Farmville. I used to live in a house on South Street that my great, great grandfather and great grandmother built in about 1868. I started my education in Farmville, and I attended elementary school at Mary E. Branch, one and two. As I was going into the ninth grade--well, I might have gone to eighth grade at Moton--but as I was going into the ninth grade the public schools were closed.

Aaron Moorer 01:12
Okay. That's great. Okay, and can you share any memories about being back in school? Or any memories about the time the school closed for you? So you said it was eighth grade? So what was that like when schools closed? Can you take me through the process, and where did you go from there?

James Ghee 01:41
I don't remember, within a degree of certainty, what it was like. I just know that we got out of school in June of '59. And September, we were told that schools would not be reopened.

Aaron Moorer 02:05

James Ghee 02:06
But it was just a continuation of summer, until I started to attend the training centers, which the Virginia Teachers Association, the NAACP, and the American Friends Service Committee, had put together at church basements to keep young black students from following...from falling so far behind in their schoolwork. These centers where young people went to for four hours in the morning, just to keep them working on the basics: reading, writing, arithmetic, history. I did that the first year that public schools were closed. The second year that public schools were closed, I went to live with my grandmother in Cumberland County, and was there for at least one grading period before I was told that the school was overcrowded, and that all of us from Prince Edward was making this overcrowded and please do not come back. The following month, I returned to the training centers and worked there and went there for the next year. While working there, I worked closely with the people from the American Friends Service Committee, and they found me a place to go for my third year being out of school. So in the Fall of '61 I took a 36 hour bus trip from Farmville, Virginia to Iowa City, Iowa. And I stayed with a family in Iowa City. I attended Central Junior High School, I stayed on and I was in Iowa City where I completed high school. By the time I had completed high school, I think I was considered a state resident of Iowa. And I could go to the University of Iowa, which is right there in Iowa City. I attended the University of Iowa, I did my junior year at the American University of Beirut, I came back to Iowa, I graduated in 1969, with a bachelor's degree in political science. I was accepted to the School of Law at the University of Virginia, and I entered it in August of '69, and I graduated in '72. And I have been practicing law in Farmville since about 1975.

Aaron Moorer 05:43
Okay, so listening to just the timeline and everything, I know that a lot of the authors from the Voice newspaper were students at Moton High School. So like, how was your connection there? Because I know you said you was, you graduated University of Iowa in 1969. And that paper was started in 1965 'til like, 1969, so how was your connection to the Voice Newspaper? Like, how did you get started in that? And how did you play a role?

James Ghee 06:22
Every year that I was in school, in high school in Iowa, I came home to farm for the summer.

Aaron Moorer 06:34
Ooookay. Okay.

James Ghee 06:35
So I was involved with the activities in Prince Edward County in the summer, each year that I was away and... We started the paper in maybe...I think the first Edition came out, maybe, '65, and clearly, I was in the midst of it.

Aaron Moorer 07:15
Okay. Okay, that fills in the blank for me a little bit, awesome. And so with the Voice newspaper, do you remember how the idea of starting this paper came about? Like, who came up with the idea of writing this paper? Who was a part of that? And, you know, how'd y'all get the ball rolling?

James Ghee 07:42
I believe we had talked about the fact that there was no paper in this area, which actually talked about people of color, and what we were going through at that time, and I believe, [he?] and I, and maybe James White, talked about this. And we talked with Reverend Griffin, and he talked with the Journal and Guide, the publisher of the Journal and Guide, and the publisher of the Journal and Guide said that if we got the paper together, they would print it.

Aaron Moorer 08:35
Okay. So they they funded the newspaper as well.

James Ghee 08:41
Who? No, I don't think the Journal and Guide funded it, because we had to go out and solicit some ads to help cover the costs.

Aaron Moorer 08:53

James Ghee 08:55
I think they might not have charged us the same rate, you know, but they didn't fund it. I think we had to get some ads. I think we even said in the newspaper we needed ads to keep going.

Aaron Moorer 09:13
Okay, yeah, makes sense. Okay. And so you being a college student and coming back over the summer, what motivated you to personally participate in writing for this paper? Was there like an individual who played an important role in, you know, motivating you to write this paper? Or was that just off a personal interest?

James Ghee 09:34
I think it was something that we had talked about. You have lots of free time, you talk about things that you think you should do.

Aaron Moorer 09:46
Right. Yeah.

James Ghee 09:48
And I think it was Skippy, which is Reverend Griffin's son, myself and James White. And I'm not sure if Otis was involved or not. But... And we talked to the people who were working with Reverend Griffin.

Aaron Moorer 10:12
Okay. Gotcha. Okay. And so there was Ms. Harriet White, if you don't recall, she was an author, and also was a mother of several of the authors for this paper. Do you remember what role she played in the newspaper? And if there were any, like other adults who were influential in the creation of this newspaper?

James Ghee 10:39
Well, I knew Ms... Harriet or Hattie, which name did you say?

Aaron Moorer 10:54

James Ghee 10:56

Aaron Moorer 10:58

James Ghee 10:59
Ms. Harriet White and her daughter Darwyn wrote for the newspaper also.

Aaron Moorer 11:10

James Ghee 11:11
Ms. White was like a den mother for so many of us.

Aaron Moorer 11:19

James Ghee 11:22
And I'm almost sure she was there encouraging, and making sure we did something.

Aaron Moorer 11:33
Right. Yeah. As you should. Okay. Cool. And so who would you say was the main audience for this paper? Who did y'all really want this to get out to?

James Ghee 11:47
People of color.

Aaron Moorer 11:49
People of Color? Okay. Cool. And do you remember any kind of events that you wanted to cover? Because I know, I know, it's kind of hard to think back, you know, all the way back to 19...the 1960s. But were there any events you wanted to write about, but you weren't able to due to censorship or anything like that? Or were you guys pretty much able to write about most things that you wanted to? willingly?

James Ghee 12:21
Whatever we wanted to write about, we could.

Aaron Moorer 12:24
I know that's right! Okay, that's awesome. And so, what impact do you think the paper had on the Prince Edward community or on yourself? Or, you know, other schools?

James Ghee 12:47
I'm not sure. I don't know.

Aaron Moorer 12:50
Okay. And so during this time period, I know the federal government was, you know, creating a lot of funding for more access to education, through initiatives like the Operation Catch Up, and the Education Act of 1965 and other programs. Were you aware of this new funding by any chance, if you could recall?

James Ghee 13:21
I was not.

Aaron Moorer 13:24
Okay. And so I guess just to talk a little bit more. Could you speak on like, how Farmville has changed over the years? Since you've grown up until I guess, now?

James Ghee 13:45
I think we can just look around and see the change.

Aaron Moorer 13:47
[laughs] Right, for sure. Yeah, I was just talking to my friend today and, I took a course here my freshman year and just hearing, you know, what took place back then, and how schools were desegregated and all that, which is really surprising how Farmville was, you know, late to do so. So, yeah, I definitely would say Farmville has come a long way. And I mean, there's still a lot of change to come.

James Ghee 14:20
Oh, come a long way. I think that our community be as rural as we are, community has a long way.

Aaron Moorer 14:34
For sure.

James Ghee 14:35
There is more racial interaction here than we might see in some other places. I believe there's more openness to some degree, than we might see in other places.

Aaron Moorer 14:54

James Ghee 14:56
I believe we've come a long way.

Aaron Moorer 14:58
Yeah. I think everybody else could agree. And so what would you want students today to take away from your experience? Because I know you've attended the Moton Museum, and with you working on The Voice during this era, what would you want students today to take away from your experience, if anything? I'll give you time to think about that if you have anything.

James Ghee 15:32
I believe when we look at our community, and see the role that young people have played in transforming our world--young people from Prince Edward County, have played in transforming our world--I would like for young people today to understand the impact that they can have on making our world a better place.

Aaron Moorer 16:14
For sure, I mean, yeah, we're the future. And so I don't think a lot of people understand the gravity of that, because it's like, "oh, we're young, so we're not going to really have an impact." But we're, you know, we're future leaders and I guess a lot of people don't want to think about that, because it could seem overwhelming. But yeah, I remember you came to speak with Hampden-Sydney Brother for Brother last, I think it was last year, you came to speak for the Brother for Brother group. And just hearing, hearing your life story was awesome, you know, going off to Iowa and still being able to do what you wanted to do, which was ultimately become a lawyer and then come back and serve the community was awesome.

James Ghee 17:12
[Crosstalk] Keep this in mind, now. Of the five jurisdictions involved in the Brown versus Board of Education decision, the Prince Edward case was a case started by teenagers. Not adults, but teenagers.

Aaron Moorer 17:42
Yes, exactly. Yes. I think that, yes.

James Ghee 17:47
And knowing that history and seeing what young people can do. It just, it boggles the mind.

Aaron Moorer 18:01
For sure, yeah. Out of all the other cases, I think Prince Edward had the most students on the plaintiff as well. So like, that's--you know, just amazing. Just to hear about--cuz, you know, just to imagine like, dealing with legal actions that early on just takes a lot of courage and commitment. So, yeah. So I just have a couple other small questions that I don't know if you'll be able to answer, but did you witness any propaganda or news topics, you know, at the time that you like--anything that you can remember that you published on--you know, like a lot of people can put out false information or stretch the truth and...did y'all ever try to post on, publish on these topics?

James Ghee 19:09
I don't think we did.

Aaron Moorer 19:11
Okay. So with this paper, did you recall ever coming across any threats or encounters that attempted you guys to prevent publishing the newspaper?

James Ghee 19:26
We were too quick, too, too...crazy to recognize that.

Aaron Moorer 19:33
I know that's right! Okay. Well, that's pretty much all the questions I had--

James Ghee 19:45
If you think of anything else don't hesitate to call.

Aaron Moorer 19:49
Okay, I appreciate it. And I thank you for your time once again. And we will be in touch with you on more details about the website once it's launched. And I will send you the link once everything's published and stuff.

James Ghee 20:04
Okay, very good.

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James Ghee and Aaron Moorer, “Ghee, James,” Hampden-Sydney College Digital Repository, accessed June 23, 2024,