Although Prince Edward County has been primarily a rural tobacco-growing county, most of its memorable buildings are located in Farmville and the best known of its buildings are schools, Longwood University (PE7), Hampden-Sydney College (PE17), and the schools in Farmville (see PE12). Even more conservative than the college students and alumni, Prince Edward County's white leaders were the South's most aggressive advocates of Massive Resistance to racial integration. They caught the attention of the nation by closing all the county's public schools from 1959 to 1964. Their audacity was more than matched by the black high school students who in 1951 went on strike for better facilities. The strike led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to include Prince Edward in the 1954 Supreme Court decision that brought an end to institutionalized segregation in the public schools of the United States. A 1950 population of 6,860 blacks and 8,538 whites in this Black Belt county formed the context for NAACP interest and the school closings.
Scots-Irish, Anglo-Americans, and enslaved African Americans arrived in the area in the first half of the eighteenth century. By 1753, the region was populous enough for the new county of Prince Edward, named for the brother of George III, to be carved out of Amelia County. Very few of the small log or frame houses built in the eighteenth century are still standing, and most are not visible from public roads. The mid-nineteenth century saw the rise of an affluent class that provided a market for Jacob Holt, the county's best known antebellum master builder. In 1840, Holt was building houses all over Southside with his labor force of 19 freemen and 29 young male slaves. Five years later he moved his operation to richer ground in Warrenton, North Carolina. Prince Edward's red-clay hills have generally supported small farms, but agriculture was sufficiently profitable to make the slave population 7,341 in 1860, compared to 466 free blacks and 4,037 whites.
The first courthouse was located in the village of Worsham at the center of the county and distant from the Appomattox River. Proximity to the river was a principal reason Farmville flourished and Worsham did not. A railway crossed the river nearby and entered Farmville in the 1850s, providing a second boon to Farmville's commercial vitality, which drew the county courthouse from Worsham in 1874. Today the major sources of employment for the county are in educational institutions, its medical facilities serving a seven-county region, county government, and some part-time farming.
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