Massive resistance was a strategy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia along with his brother-in-law as the leader in the Virginia General Assembly, Democrat Delegate James M. Thomson of Alexandria, to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation, particularly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. Many schools, and even an entire school system, were shut down in 1958 and 1959 in attempts to block integration, before both the Virginia Supreme Court and a special three-judge panel of Federal District judges from the Eastern District of Virginia, sitting at Norfolk, declared those policies unconstitutional.
Although most of the laws created to implement massive resistance were overturned by state and federal courts within a year, some aspects of the campaign against integrated public schools continued in Virginia for many more years.
- 1 Byrd Organization and opposition to racial integration
- 2 Gray Commission
- 3 1956: Circumventing Brown via the Stanley Plan
- 4 1957–59: Massive resistance vs. the courts
- 4.1 Closed schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County
- 4.2 Charlottesville, Virginia
- 4.3 Arlington loses its school board
- 4.4 Perrow Commission
- 4.5 Prince Edward County
- 4.6 From segregation academies to the end of massive resistance
- 4.7 Massive resistance ends: New Kent County
- 4.8 Court-ordered busing: Richmond and back to Norfolk
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Byrd Organization and opposition to racial integration
|History of Virginia|
After Reconstruction ended following the 1876 Presidential election and the Readjuster Party fell in the 1880s, and continuing into the 1960s, Virginia's conservative Democrats actively worked to maintain legal and cultural racial segregation in Virginia through the Jim Crow laws. To complete white supremacy, after the U.S. Supreme court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Virginia adopted a new constitution in 1902 effectively disenfranchising African Americans through restrictions on voter registration and also requiring racially segregated schools, among other features.
In the early 20th century, Harry Flood Byrd (1887–1966), a Democrat, former Governor of Virginia, and the state's senior U.S. Senator after World War II, led what became known as the Byrd Organization. Continuing a legacy of segregationist Democrats, from the mid-1920s until the late 1960s, the Byrd Organization was a political machine which effectively controlled Virginia politics through a network of courthouse cliques of local constitutional officers in most of the state's counties. The Byrd Organization's greatest strength was in the rural areas of the state. It never gained a significant foothold in the independent cities, nor with the emerging suburban middle-class of Virginians after World War II. One of the Byrd Organization's most vocal, though moderate, long-term opponents proved to be Benjamin Muse, who grew up in North Carolina, served as a Democratic state senator from Petersburg, Virginia, then unsuccessfully ran for Governor as a Republican in 1940, served in the U.S. Army, moved to Manassas, Virginia and became a publisher and Washington Post columnist.
Using legal challenges, by the 1940s, black attorneys who included Thurgood Marshall, Oliver W. Hill, William H. Hastie, Spottswood W. Robinson III and Leon A. Ransom were gradually winning civil rights cases based upon federal constitutional challenges. Among these was the case of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, which was actually initiated by students who stepped forward to protest poor conditions at R. R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. Their case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. That decision overturned Plessy and declared that state laws which established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities and were inherently unequal. As a result, de jure racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby paving the way for Desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement.
A little more than a month after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown, on June 26, 1954, Senator Byrd vowed to stop integration attempts in Virginia's schools. By the end of that summer, Governor Thomas B. Stanley, a member of the Byrd Organization, had appointed a Commission on Public Education, consisting of 32 white Democrats chaired by Virginia Senator Garland "Peck" Gray of rural Sussex County. This became known as the Gray Commission. Before it issued its final report on November 11, 1955, the Supreme Court had responded to segregationists' delaying tactics by issuing Brown II and directing federal district judges to implement desegregation "with all deliberate speed."  The Gray Plan recommended that the General Assembly pass legislation and allow for amendment of the state constitution so as to repeal Virginia's compulsory school attendance law, to allow the Governor to close schools rather than allow their integration, to establish pupil assignment structures, and finally to provide vouchers to parents who chose to enroll their children in segregated private schools. Virginia voters approved the Gray Plan Amendment on January 9, 1956.
1956: Circumventing Brown via the Stanley Plan
On February 24, 1956, Byrd declared a campaign which became known as "massive resistance" to avoid implementing public school integration in Virginia. Leading the state's Conservative Democrats, he proclaimed "If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South." Within a month, Senator Byrd and 100 other conservative Southern politicians signed what became known as the "Southern Manifesto," condemning the Supreme Court's decisions concerning racial integration in public places as violating states' rights.
Before the next school year began, the NAACP filed lawsuits to end school segregation in Norfolk, Arlington, Charlottesville and Newport News. To implement massive resistance, in 1956, the Byrd Organization-controlled Virginia General Assembly passed a series of laws known as the Stanley plan, after Governor Thomas Bahnson Stanley. One of these laws, passed on September 21, 1956, forbade any integrated schools from receiving state funds, and authorized the governor to order closed any such school. Another of these laws established a three-member Pupil Placement Board that would determine which school a student would attend. The decision of these Boards was based almost entirely on race. These laws also created tuition grant structures which could channel funds formerly allocated to closed schools to students so they could attend private, segregated schools of their choice. In practice, this caused the creation of the "segregation academies" discussed below
1957–59: Massive resistance vs. the courts
On January 11, 1957, U.S. district judge Walter E. Hoffman, in consolidated cases concerning Norfolk's schools, declared the Pupil Placement Act unconstitutional. However, this decision was on appeal as the next school year started. Nonetheless, Virginians could see that President Eisenhower was willing to use troops to enforce a similar decision in Little Rock, Arkansas. In November 1957, Virginians elected Attorney General James Lindsay Almond, Jr., another member of the Byrd Organization, to succeed Stanley.
Closed schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County
Governor Almond took office on January 11, 1958 and soon matters had come to a head. Federal courts ordered public schools in Warren County, the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk and Arlington County to integrate, but local and state officials appealed. Local authorities also tried delaying school openings that September. When they opened late in the month, Almond ordered various schools subject to federal court integration orders closed, including Warren County High School, two City of Charlottesville schools (Lane High School and Venable Elementary School), and six schools in the City of Norfolk. Warren County (Front Royal) and Charlottesville cobbled together education for their students with the help of churches and philanthropic organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee. The larger and poorer Norfolk school system had a harder time—one-third of its approximately 10,000 students did not attend any school. A group of families whose white children were locked out of the closed Norfolk schools also sued in federal court on the grounds that they were not being granted equal protection under the law, since they had no schools. Ironically, a Norfolk parochial school, Blessed Sacrament, had accepted its first black pupil in November 1953, even before Brown.
Moderate white parents throughout Virginia that fall formed local committees to Preserve our Schools, as well as conducting letter writing and petition campaigns. When Almond refused to allow Norfolk's six previously all-white junior and senior high schools to open in September, that local parents' group was renamed the Norfolk Committee for Public Schools. In December 1958 various similar committees statewide combined under an umbrella organization called the Virginia Committee for Public Schools. Furthermore, 29 prominent businessmen met with Governor Almond in that same month and told him that massive resistance was hurting Virginia's economy. Almond responded by calling for a "Pilgrimage of Prayer" on January 1, 1959.
James v. Almond was heard in November 1958, and the 3-judge panel of federal district judges gave their decision on January 19, 1959, Virginia's traditional holiday celebrating Robert E. Lee, declaring for the plaintiffs and ordering that the schools be opened. On the same day the Virginia Supreme Court issued Harrison v. Day, and found that Governor Almond had violated the state constitution by closing schools, despite the other provision which had required segregation and which was invalid after Brown. While the Virginia Supreme Court found that funnelling local school funds through the new state agency violated another state constitutional provision, it condemned the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decision as showing lack of judicial restraint and respect for the sovereign rights of the Commonwealth and allowed the tuition grant program to continue through local authorities. Shortly thereafter, Edward R. Murrow aired a national TV documentary titled The Lost Class of '59 that highlighted the Norfolk situation. Nonetheless, Norfolk's government, led by Mayor Duckworth, attempted to prevent the schools' reopening by financial maneuvering, until the same 3-judge federal panel found again for the plaintiffs.
Massive resistance in Charlottesville was prompted when Federal Judge John Paul ordered the Charlottesville School Board to end segregation commencing when schools were to open in September, 1956. Twelve students, whose parents had sued for the right to transfer, were to attend two all-white schools: three Burley High School students would attend Lane High School and nine Jefferson School elementary students would attend Venable Elementary School. The students became known as "The Charlottesville Twelve." The decree was received in Charlottesville on August 7, 1956. City Attorney John S. Battle indicated their intent to appeal the decree.
Arlington loses its school board
While campaigning in Arlington before his election, Almond had said that he favored a more flexible approach to school desegregation than Byrd's massive resistance. In 1946, when the nearby District of Columbia schools started charging fees for black children from Arlington, the suburban city/county combination with a burgeoning population of federal civil servants had petitioned a special session of Virginia's General Assembly for the right to hold a referendum to become the only Virginia community with an elected school board. In October 1948, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld that new board against a challenge raised by the old appointed board. However, even the new board's policy of building and improving schools proved inadequate given the county's financial limitations; black students were still sent to segregated and inferior schools, including Hoffman-Boston School for the small number of black middle and high school students. A federal lawsuit was initially dismissed by U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan, but in June 1950 the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit had ordered the county to provide equal facilities for blacks, and equal pay for black teachers.
Arlington's Catholic schools integrated almost immediately after Brown v. Board of Education, with no disorder or public outcry. However, when Arlington's elected school board announced in January 1956 that it planned to begin integration in selected schools, shortly before the General Assembly met, it soon found that the state would not allow localities to determine their own positions on racial matters. The legislature dismantled Arlington's elected public school board, instead allowing the conservative Arlington County Board to appoint school board members. This—with other aspects of massive resistance—delayed Arlington's public school integration for years. County voters (95% white) had voted in early 1956 against the Gray Commission's proposals, although that referendum passed statewide. However, the American Nazi Party at that time maintained its headquarters in Arlington, and it, with the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties (a segregationist group), disrupted school board meetings and distributed tracts against integration.
Arlington's new appointed school board delayed integration, so the NAACP filed another lawsuit in May 1956 demanding desegregation, similar to lawsuits filed in three other Virginia counties. Arlingtonians also formed a Committee to Preserve Public Schools to keep their schools open against threats of massive resistance proponents. This time, Judge Bryan, on July 31, 1956, ordered Arlington's school integrated. However, his injunction lacked teeth. He did not try to circumvent the Pupil Placement Act passed that summer, aware that not only had the Commonwealth again appealed his ruling to the Fourth Circuit (which was also considering desegregation lawsuits from Southside Virginia), the Virginia Supreme Court would soon rule on challenges to the Pupil placement Act's validity based on Virginia's constitution. Meanwhile, Arlington parents hoped for peaceful desegregation, but believed strongly that northern Virginians should not lead the statewide movement of moderates, but instead jointly resolve their situation with those in Norfolk, Charlottesville and Front Royal.
After the federal and state court decisions of January 19, 1959 struck down the new Virginia mandatory closing law, Arlington integrated its Stratford Junior High School (now called H-B Woodlawn) on February 2, 1959, the same day as Norfolk integrated its schools. The Arlington County Board's new chairman proudly called the massively prepared-for event, "The Day Nothing Happened".
Having lost James v. Almond and Harrison v. Day, Governor Almond publicly reversed his defiant stance within a few months. The special legislative session formed a commission led by Mosby Perrow Jr. of Lynchburg, which issued a report backing acceptance of limited desegregation, leaving the burden on black parents, repealing the compulsory attendance law in favor of a "school choice" program and relying on the Pupil Placement Board to keep desegregation to a minimum. Almond's legislative plan barely passed despite the Byrd Organization's opposition. This earned Senator Byrd's wrath, and after Almond's term expired, Byrd tried to block Almond's appointment as a federal judge by President John F. Kennedy, although Almond was confirmed and served on the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals from June 1963 until his death in 1986. Perrow also paid a price, for he failed to win reelection, losing to a challenger in the next Democratic primary, although Perrow later served as President of the Virginia State Board of Education.
Prince Edward County
Despite Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County being one of the companion cases in Brown v. Board of Education, Prince Edward County schools took even longer to desegregate. The county's board refused to appropriate any money to operate the schools, which closed rather than comply with the federal desegregation order effective September 1, 1959. It was the only school district in the country to resort to such extreme measures. White students took advantage of state tuition vouchers to attend segregation academies (as discussed below), but black students had no educational alternatives within the county. Edward R. Murrow brought such students' plight to national attention. Finally, in 1963, Prince Edwards' schools were ordered to open, and when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the county's appeal, supervisors gave in rather than risk prison. Then 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, and segregationists could appeal no longer. However, when Prince Edward County's schools opened on September 8, 1964, all but 8 of the 1500 students were black, and observers noted the difference between the black children sent elsewhere for education by the American Friends Service Committee, and those who remained unschooled through the hiatus and became the "crippled generation."
During the Prince Edward's public schools closure, white students could attend Prince Edward Academy, which operated as the de facto school system, enrolling K-12 students at a number of facilities throughout the county. Even after the re-opening of the public schools, the Academy remained segregated, although it briefly lost its tax-exempt status in 1978 for its discriminatory practices. White students gradually drifted back to the public schools as tuition crept higher. In 1986, it accepted black students. Today it is known as Fuqua School.
From segregation academies to the end of massive resistance
Public schools in the Commonwealth's western counties, where there were fewer blacks, were integrated largely without incident in the early 1960s. Charlottesville's Lane High School and Venable Elementary School both re-opened in February 1959. By the fall of 1960, NAACP litigation had resulted in some desegregation in eleven localities, and the number of at least partially desegregated districts had slowly risen to 20 in the fall of 1961, 29 in the fall of 1962, and 55 (out of 130 school districts) in 1963. However, only 3,700 black pupils or 1.6% attended school with whites even in 1963.
For example, when Warren County High School re-opened, it became an all-black school, since no white students enrolled. Their parents had opted instead to send their children to the John S. Mosby Academy (named after a Confederate cavalry leader), one of many "segregation academies", which were private schools opened throughout the state as part of the massive resistance plan. Over the course of the 1960s, white students gradually returned to Warren County High School. The Mosby Academy closed eventually, becoming the county's middle school.
In 1960, the original three members of the Pupil Placement Board resigned. Massive resistance was initially replaced by the Perrow Commission's "Freedom of Choice" plan, under which families and students could opt to attend the public schools of their choice. However, fear, lack of transportation, and other practical considerations kept most public school students, both black and white, in largely (or completely) segregated schools. The General Assembly finally dismantled the Pupil Placement Board in 1966.
State tuition grants given to children who opted out of public schools helped to maintain racially segregated private schools for years, particularly in Virginia's southernmost counties. Surry County closed only its white schools during the initial phase of massive resistance. White students attended the Surry Academy, while black students continued to attend the public schools. Other segregation academies included: Tomahawk Academy (in Chesterfield County), Huguenot Academy (in Powhatan), Amelia Academy, Isle of Wight Academy, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy (in Nansemond County), Brunswick Academy, Southampton Academy, Tidewater Academy (in Sussex County), York Academy (in King and Queen County), Rock Hill Academy and Robert E. Lee School (in Charlottesville), Hampton Roads Academy (in Newport News), Walsingham Academy (in Williamsburg) and Bollingbrook (in Petersburg).
Massive resistance ends: New Kent County
The continued slow pace of integration was frustrating the Federal courts. In New Kent County, most black students voluntarily chose to attend the George W. Watkins School instead of New Kent High School. However, Calvin Green, a black parent, sued the county school system to force a more radical desegregation scheme. In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that massive resistance to integration was also illegal in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County. That decision laid the groundwork for desegregation busing plans that caused controversy in Virginia, but more famously in Boston.
Court-ordered busing: Richmond and back to Norfolk
The Richmond City Public Schools had attempted various schemes to avoid integration, including dual attendance zones and the "Freedom of Choice" Plan. After an unsuccessful annexation suit against Henrico County to the north, the city successfully annexed 23 square miles (60 km2) of neighboring Chesterfield County to its south on January 1, 1970 in what the federal court later determined to be an attempt to stem white flight, as well as dilute black political strength. In 1970, District Court Judge Robert Merhige, Jr., ordered a desegregation busing scheme established to integrate Richmond schools. However, beginning the following school year, thousands of white students did not go to the city's schools, but instead began attending existing and newly formed private schools and/or moving outside the city limits.
A forced consolidation of the Richmond City, Chesterfield County and Henrico County public school districts was proposed and approved by Judge Merhige in 1971, but the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this decision, barring most busing schemes that made students cross county/city boundaries. (Note: Since 1871, Virginia has had independent cities which are not politically located within counties, although some are completely surrounded geographically by a single county. This distinctive and unusual arrangement was pivotal in the Court of Appeals decision). Richmond City Schools then went through a series of attendance plans and magnet school programs. By 1986, Judge Merhige approved a system of essentially neighborhood schools, ending Virginia's legal struggles with segregation.
In 1970, the Norfolk City Public Schools and several other Virginia communities were also subjected to busing schemes, also returning to more or less neighborhood school plans some years later.
Notably, Virginia experienced no incidents which required National Guard intervention. In 1969, Virginians elected Republican A. Linwood Holton, Jr., who had opposed massive resistance and labeled it "the state's pernicious anti-desegregation strategy," as governor. The following year, Gov. Holton placed his children (including future Virginia First Lady Anne Holton) in Richmond's mostly African-American public schools, to considerable publicity. He also increased the number of blacks and women employed in the state government and in 1973 created the Virginia Governor's Schools Program. Furthermore, when Virginia revised its state constitution in 1971, it included one of the strongest provisions concerning public education of any state in the country.
In 2009, as part of their "American Soil Series", the Virginia Stage Company featured Line in the Sand, a play by Chris Hannah. It reflects the emotions and tensions in Norfolk during massive resistance in both the political arena and through the eyes of the students of the "Lost Class".
On July 16, 2009, the Richmond Times-Dispatch apologized in an editorial for its role and the role of its parent company and its sister newspaper, The Richmond News Leader, in championing massive resistance to human rights, acknowledging that "the Times-Dispatch was complicit" in an "unworthy cause": "The record fills us with regret, which we have expressed before. Massive Resistance inflicted pain then. Memories remain painful. Editorial enthusiasm for a dreadful doctrine still affects attitudes toward the newspaper."
At the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia's service of Repentance, Reconciliation & Healing on November 2, 2013, specific mention was made of the actions of C. G. Gordon Moss, Dean of Longwood College in attempting to heal the divisions in Prince Edward County in 1963, and the retaliation he experienced. Several months earlier, the vestry of Johns Memorial Episcopal Church in Farmville, Virginia issued a similar apology during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the school closings.
On March 10, 2016, the Henrico County School Board unanimously decided to change the name of the Harry Flood Byrd Middle School. The new name is Quioccasin Middle School.
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- Edward H. Peeples Prince Edward County (Va.) Public Schools Collection photographs, documents, and maps exploring the history of the Prince Edward County school segregation issues of the 1950s and 1960s, from the collection of the VCU Libraries.