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Dr. Calvin C. Green, Unsung Civil Rights Hero Succumbs at 79

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By Jeremy M. Lazarus, Special to the NNPA from the Richmond Free Press –

Dr. Calvin C. Green led the fight against segregated schools in New Kent County. In the process, he would father a U.S. Supreme Court case that legal scholars now rank second in importance to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that outlawed racially separated public schools.

He is the unsung hero of the case known as Green v. New Kent County, which came 14 years after Brown and finally required governments across Virginia and the South to end school apartheid. Dr. Green, who also was a pastor, schoolteacherm and Army Reserve officer, succumbed to cancer earlier this month, at his residence in Quinton in New Kent County. He was 79.

“He was devoted to helping people,” said Ella Mary Osborne Green, his wife of 56 years. “He pushed education.”

Dr. Green launched the landmark lawsuit while serving as president of the New Kent NAACP branch, which he led for 16 years. He led the fight in 1964, a decade after the nation’s highest court had issued the Brown decision overturning segregated schools. But, little had changed in New Kent which, like hundreds of Southern school districts, largely ignored the Brown ruling. Fed up, Dr. Green rallied Black parents and began pushing for change based on provisions of the newly enacted 1964 Civil Rights Act. The new law contained provisions barring school segregation.

But, the most the county would offer was a so-called “freedom of choice” plan that allowed Black parents to petition for their children to attend all-white schools instead of the shabbier Black schools. Working with NAACP lawyers, notably Oliver W. Hill Sr., Samuel W. Tucker, and Henry L. Marsh III, Dr. Green rejected that approach as a sham and brought the federal lawsuit, with his youngest son, Charles C. Green, now a teacher in Winston-Salem, N.C., as the lead plaintiff.

The effort was vindicated four years later when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Green decision.

Impatient with the slow pace of desegregation, the court used the Green case to reject freedom of choice plans and to order school systems to provide racial balance in all schools. The goal: To “convert promptly to a system without a ‘white school’ and a ‘Negro school’ but just schools,” the court wrote. In the wake of the case, the percentage of black students attending desegregated schools rose from 32 percent in the 1968-69 school year to 72 percent in the 1970-71 school year. Busing for racial purposes became commonplace.

Born into a Middlesex County family of 11 children, Dr. Green served in the Korean War and then spent 36 years as an officer in the Army Reserve. He rose to the rank of colonel and served in the medical service and as a chaplain before retiring in 1991.

He also was a schoolteacher in Richmond for 33 years. He began teaching at Armstrong High School and led the school’s JROTC program after earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Virginia State University in 1956.

He would later add a master’s degree from North Carolina A&T and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. He served as chairman of the science department at Thomas Jefferson before he retired in 1990.

He also found time to follow his father, the Rev. James H. Green, into the ministry. He served as pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in New Kent for five years and also was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Saluda for 13 years.

He earned a master’s of theology degree from Virginia Union University, a doctorate of theology from the International Bible Institute and Seminary in Orlando, Fla., and doctorate in pastoral counseling from the International Seminary University in Plymouth, Florida.

In recent years, he operated an income tax service and computer servicing business.

In 2000, he created and ran two trusts to offer financial aid to help students attend college and victims of natural disasters.

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