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Massive resistance was a policy declared by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia on February 24, 1956, to unite other white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. Although most of the laws created to implement Massive Resistance were negated by state and federal courts by January 1960, some policies and effects of the campaign against integrated public schools continued in Virginia for many more years; many schools, and even an entire school system, were shut down in preference to integration.
Harry Flood Byrd (1887–1966), Democrat, a former Governor of Virginia, and the state's senior U.S. Senator, was the leader of the powerful Byrd Organization. Continuing a legacy of state domination by segregationist Democrats which began after the fall of the Readjuster Party in the late 19th century, 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.
Opposition to racial integration
From the period following Reconstruction in the late 19th century, continuing into the second half of the 20th century, Virginia's conservative Democrats and the Byrd Organization actively worked to maintain legal and cultural racial segregation in Virginia through the Jim Crow laws. To complete white supremacy, they also passed a new constitution in 1902 that effectively disfranchised African Americans through restrictions on voter registration. African Americans were deprived of representation until passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.
Using legal challenges, by the 1940s, black attorneys who included notables such as Thurgood Marshall, Oliver W. Hill, William H. Hastie, Spottswood W. Robinson III and Leon A. Ranson were gradually winning civil rights cases based upon federal constitutional issues. 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, Farmville, Virginia. Their case became a portion of those heard as part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. The Brown decision declared that state laws which established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities and that "separate educational facilities are 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 integration and encouraging the Civil Rights Movement.
Circumventing Brown ruling by new state efforts to maintain segregation
Senator Byrd waged vocal and bitter opposition to the high court's ruling and subsequent actions to implement public school integration in Virginia. Leading the state's Conservative Democratic political machine, on February 24, 1956, he declared a campaign which became known as "Massive Resistance" to avoid compliance. Byrd stated: "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."
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 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. Another facet of these laws was the creation of tuition grants which could be given to students so they could attend a private school of their choice; again, in practice, this meant support of all-white schools that appeared as a response to forced integration (the "segregation academies").
Later in 1956, the NAACP then filed lawsuits around the state in response to these laws in an attempt to force integration of Virginia schools. By 1958, things had come to a head. Federal courts ordered public schools in Warren County, the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk and Arlington County to integrate.
1958–59 massive resistance vs. the courts
In response, Virginia Governor James Lindsay Almond, Jr. ordered the closings of Warren County High School, two City of Charlottesville schools (Lane High School and Venable Elementary School), and six schools in the City of Norfolk. While Warren County and Charlottesville were able to cobble together education for their students, Norfolk, being a larger school system, had a harder time, and one-third of the affected students did not attend any school. White parents formed first The Norfolk Committee to Preserve our Schools and conducted letter writing campaigns and petition campaigns. When in the fall of 1958 the six previously all-white junior and senior high schools were not allowed by the state to open, the parents' group was renamed the Norfolk Committee for Public Schools and one of its rallies was featured in a national TV documentary titled The Lost Class of '59. Out of this association, a group of families whose white children were locked out of the closed schools, sued in federal court on the grounds that they were not being granted equal protection under the law, since they had no schools. James v. Almond was heard in November 1958, and the 3-judge panel gave their decision on January 19, 1959, declaring for the plaintiffs and ordering that the schools be opened. The City of Norfolk attempted to prevent the opening by financial maneuvering, but the same 3-judge panel found again for the plaintiffs, and the Norfolk schools were thereby opened at the start of February 1959.
In Prince Edward County, the schools remained closed until the early 1960s when a suit was finally filed. Having lost James v. Almond, Governor Almond publicly reversed the defiant stance taken only a few months earlier. By changing the state's policy, he earned the wrath of the Byrd Organization and Senator Byrd, who later tried to block his appointment as a federal judge by President John F. Kennedy.
In 1960, the original three members of the Pupil Placement Board resigned, and the Board was ended by the General Assembly in 1966. But state tuition grants given to children who opted out of public schools helped maintain racially segregated private schools for years.
The public schools in counties in the western part of the state where there were fewer blacks were integrated largely without incident in the early 1960s. Notably, there were no incidents in Virginia which required National Guard intervention.
Lane High School and Venable Elementary School reopened in February 1959. However, when Warren County High School re-opened, it was ironically as an all-black school, as no white students attended. 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 and the Mosby Academy was closed, eventually becoming the county's middle school.
Other segregation academies that were formed 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), and Rock Hill Academy (in Charlottesville)
Prince Edward County: no public schools 1958–64
When ordered to integrate, Prince Edward County closed its entire school system in September 1959 rather than integrate. Prince Edward County was the only school district in the country to resort to such extreme measures. In 1963, schools were ordered to open, and when the Supreme Court agreed in 1964 in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, the supervisors gave in rather than risk prison, and public schools were reopened.
During the interruption in access to Prince Edward's public schools, white students were able to 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, losing its tax-exempt status in 1978. In 1986, it accepted black students. Today it is known as Fuqua School.
Other counties, such as Surry County closed only their white schools. White students attended the Surry Academy and blacks continued to attend the public schools.
Freedom of Choice: most public schools remain segregated
Massive resistance was initially replaced by a "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.
Federal courts order busing programs
By 1968, 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 its decision, the U.S. Supreme Court laid the ground for desegregation busing plans that caused controversy in Virginia, but more famously in Boston.
The Richmond City Public Schools had attempted various schemes to avoid integration such as dual attendance zones and the "Freedom of Choice" Plan, but in 1970, District Court Judge Robert Merhige, Jr., ordered a desegregation busing scheme established to integrate the city schools. During the years immediately preceding, 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 was later determined in federal courts to be an attempt to stem the white flight that was occurring, as well as dilute black political strength. However, beginning the following school year, thousands of white students did not go to the city's schools, instead attending existing and newly formed private schools and/or moving outside the city limits.
In the federal courts, 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.
On July 16, 2009, the Richmond Times-Dispatch apologized in an editorial for its role and the role of its parent company and sister newspaper 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."
In 2009, as part of their "American Soil Series", the Virginia Stage Company featured "Line in the Sand", a play by Chris Hannah. "Line in the Sand" captures 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". http://www.vastage.com/about/past_plays
- Glasrud, Bruce; Ely, James W. (May 1977). "The Crisis of Conservative Virginia: The Byrd Organization and the Politics of Massive Resistance (book review)". The Journal of Southern History (Southern Historical Association) 43 (2): 324–325. doi:10.2307/2207385. JSTOR 2207385.
- "Brown v. Board of Education: Virginia Responds". State Library of Virginia. 2003.
- Saxon, Wolfgang (January 25, 1995). "Albertis S. Harrison Jr., 88, Dies; Led Virginia as Segregation Fell". New York Times. p. B8.
- "Times-Dispatch editorial expresses regret for Massive Resistance". Richmond Times-Dispatch. July 16, 2009.
- "The Ground Beneath Our Feet" website
- "The Civil Rights Movement in Virginia". VA Historical Society. 2004.
- "Memories of busing in Richmond". Richmond History Center.
- "Brown v. Board of Education: Virginia Responds". State Library of Virginia. 2003.
- "They Closed Our Schools," the story of Massive Resistance and the closing of the Prince Edward County, Virginia public schools
- Thomas, William G. III (2005). "Television News and the Civil Rights Era 1950–1970". University of Virginia.
- 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.