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Del. Price Highlights Civil Rights Hidden Figure

Delegate Price's Point of Personal Privilege for Monday, February 5, 2018

"Mr. Speaker and members of the House, for today’s Black History Moment, I want to highlight someone who positively impacted Newport News Public Schools and education in Virginia in general, Dorothy R. Watkins.  Then, Dorothy Roles moved to the Peninsula area in 1933 and taught for nine years at Booker T. Washington Elementary School. In her era, schools were supposedly “separate but equal” and what we know is that the “equal” part was lacking.

There were glaring disparities in access to transportation, per pupil spending, quality in supplies and textbooks, types of educational opportunities offered, and major disparities in pay, as pay was on average about $200 less than their white counterparts. Dorothy Roles was living in the unequal parts of the education system.

Specifically fighting against pay inequity, petitions had been made by Black educators across the Commonwealth as early as 1901 to no avail. And petitioners had lost their jobs in the process. In 1939, Norfolk Public Schools began phasing in pay parity for Norfolk teachers after a court case was won on appeal, finding the pay inequities unconstitutional.

In 1940, The Newport News Negro Teachers’ Association petitioned the School Board again for equal pay, and the board opposed, leading Dorothy Roles to file suit against the superintendent and the Newport News School board on Feb. 18, 1942. The court ruled in Roles’ favor in 1943, just 75 years ago.

The victory was dampened by The Newport News School Board’s firing of six leaders of the Association, including Roles. She sued the School Board for reinstatement, but eventually the board’s decision to terminate her was upheld by the court.

Though Roles lost her job, her actions were a foundational step to achieving pay equity across the entire South.  While not the total vindication she deserved, in a nod to her impact, in 1974, then Dorothy Roles Watkins was appointed to the School Board, and served until she died later that same year.

In 1976, Dorothy R. Watkins Educational Center was named in her honor, which still stands today as an appreciation for her historic actions as Watkins Early Childhood Center.

You can find this story along with links to source material on my webpage. But I encourage students watching this to work to excavate her story further, so we can learn even more about this inspirational educator-turned-plaintiff who helped changed how Black teachers across the South were compensated.

I know that Dorothy Roles Watkins’ story inspired me, that no matter the consequences, we must stand up for what’s right and fight for equality across our Commonwealth. I think her courage is something we can all salute.
Thank you Mr. Speaker."


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