Workshop IV

Education and Economics, 1950s to Present (March 2008)

  • Invited outside scholar: Dr. Adolph Reed, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania)
  • In-house presenters: Dr. Wesley Hogan, Dr. Paul Alkebulan, Dr. Dirk Philipsen

Petersburg was devastated when tobacco processing moved south in the 1970s. The combination of this economic shift and civil rights activism engendered a “white flight” evidenced in a dramatic demographic shift. In 1960, the city's population was 40% black and 60% white. By the year 2000, Petersburg had the fifth highest percentage of black residents in the nation: 78% black and 18% white. Many whites moved to neighboring Colonial Heights where the current population is 6% black and 89% white. Petersburg has one of the longest traditions of African American educational achievement and excellence. Historically, Petersburg’s public schools and university system were among the most successful in the nation.
We seek to understand the causes and processes underlying the contemporary reality that Petersburg’s public school system ranks among the worst performing in the country. The pattern is all too familiar: a shrinking urban tax base cannot meet the needs of students who face resource shortages in their homes, neighborhoods, and schools. Adult literacy has fallen below 60%. In order for Petersburg to revitalize, local schools must improve dramatically. VSU is currently engaged with the Petersburg Public School administration, the faith-based Community-Schools Partnership, and the nationally renowned Algebra
Project in efforts to create a more effective learning environment in area schools.


  • Reed, Adolph Jr. “Making Sense of Race: The Ideology of Race, the Biology of Human Variation, and the Problem of Medical and Public Health Research.” Journal of Race and Policy , Summer 2006.
  • Reed, Adolph Jr. “Unraveling the Relations of Race and Class in America Politics.” Political Power and Social Theory , Vol. 15 (2002), pp. 265-274.
  • Conley, Dalton. Being Black, Living in the Red—Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
  • Philipsen, Dirk. “Uncle Sam’s Broken Arm: Historical Reflections on Race, Class, and Government in the Wake of Katrina.” Journal of Race and Policy, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2007, pp. 33-45.

Focus Questions:

  • Petersburg had some of the earliest and best public schools for African American students and a strong educational tradition that lasted, in some cases, into the 1980s. What were the key components of this institutional success?
  • What role do religious institutions play today in supporting and rehabilitating the essential building blocks of a functioning civic environment in the city of Petersburg?
  • What can be learned from Petersburg’s particular historical trajectory for the purpose of successful economic, civic, and educational revitalization?


Wesley Hogan:

Paul Alkebulan: Where Do We Go from Here? Post-Industrial Race, Class, and Economics in Petersburg

Dirk Philipsen:

Adolph Reed, Jr.:

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