Julia Shields headshot

Julia Shields

Lane High School and Charlottesville High School


Born in 1940 in Washington, DC, Julia Shields attended St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia, from kindergarten through high school. She grew up in a segregated society, ignorant of the rules that African Americans had to follow. Her college years were spent at Sweet Briar in Amherst, Virginia. An NDEA fellowship took her to UVA for graduate school and eventually to a teaching career at Lane High School. She began her career in 1967 during the first year of total desegregation and remained at Lane and then Charlottesville High School for 30 years. She shares the perspective of a teacher who witnessed the relationships between students in her classroom, in the hallways and during lunch in the cafeteria. The roots of the tension? She says: “Years of separation, not knowing each other, believing what their families told them.” In addition, she contends, “I think the school did not do a very good job of being proactive.” The tensions mitigated as the years went by because students “just needed time to get past the ignorance,” she says. One of the ways that students got to know one another better was by being in classes together. Another was sports: “I’m just in awe of Tommy Theodose and the other coaches and the way they accepted the kids, and they taught the kids to work together, with a great sense of humor, but also, the discipline you need to work as a group.” She has expressed gratitude “for the experiences throughout my life, but particularly in the classroom, that have helped to open my eyes.” As one of the project’s few interviews with teachers, her perspective is invaluable.

Full Interview