Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County

by Kristen Green
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Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County Characters

The main characters in Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County include Kristen Green, Elsie Lancaster, and Barbara Rose Johns.

  • Kristen Green is the author and narrator of the book. She is a journalist who returns to her hometown of Farmville, Virginia, to understand her town's and her family's complicated history.
  • Elsie Lancaster was Kristen Green's nanny. When Farmville closed its public schools in 1959, Elsie was forced to send her own daughter away but continued working for Kristen's family.
  • Barbara Rose Johns was a student at Farmville's Moton High School who led a historic strike against segregation in the schools in 1951.


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Last Updated on April 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1958

Kristen Green

The character of the author, Kristen Green, is the thread tying together all the chapters of Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle. Kristen’s narrative is honest, and she takes care to share her own dilemmas and discoveries with the reader. She begins with memories of being a happy, much-loved child who adored her grandparents and was accustomed to being cared for by their housemaid, Elsie. Her growth into adulthood is marked by a number of discoveries, some of which are sharply painful, like finding out that her maternal grandfather, Samuel Cecil Patteson, or “Papa” as she knew him, was not a passive bystander but one of the people who actively resisted integration in public schools following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling about segregation in schools being unconstitutional. This resistance by the white community in Farmville led to the establishment of the Prince Edward Academy, a whites-only private school. Kristen acknowledges her love for Papa and her grandmother, whom she called Mimi, right at the start of the book. But she also reveals how she has returned to Farmville, Virginia, a changed person who wants to understand her own and the town’s history.

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I had changed. By then, I had lived outside the South for nearly a decade and traveled extensively. After college I moved to Oregon, then California, before crisscrossing the country again, bound for Massachusetts . . . I had worked as a reporter since graduating from college, focusing my efforts on people of color and the poor, those that newspapers tend to overlook.

Kristen’s falling in love with and later marrying a multiracial partner and having daughters for whom she wants a diverse, inclusive milieu reveal the struggles of parenting and trying to strike a work-life balance. Her growing awareness comes through as a series of valuable turning points, one of which happens when she is at Mary Washington College and writing for The Bullet, the college paper. Her professor, Steve Watkins, chides her for assuming that people who sound “nice” are also “good.”

Watkins’s lesson would still resonate twenty years later. Prince Edward County’s leaders were well-mannered Southern gentlemen. They had also closed the schools. Nice doesn’t mean good.

A haunting sense of loss, as she unravels more and more of the struggles of Farmville’s “Lost Generation,” pervades Kristen’s efforts through a large part of the book. She and her husband have chosen to return to Virginia after having lived a happy enough life in Boston with their two infant daughters. Not only do they move to Richmond, but Kristen also rents a home in Farmville for a summer to continue research and interviews for her book. She is determined to look beyond the story she “grew up believing” and answer the question that has remained at the back of her mind: “What is wrong with my hometown?” It is when she has gone to attend a service at the First Baptist Church and is hearing her childhood nanny, Elsie Lancaster, sing that...

(The entire section contains 1958 words.)

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