Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

November 1, 1958

Guest post by Chris Sullivan, undergraduate student at University of Richmond.

On November 1, 1958, a Norfolk Journal and Guide staff writer reported the article, “White Parents Sue Almond, Harrison In School Action: ‘Massive Resistance’ Under Fire.” The article explained that parents of 26 white children in Norfolk, Virginia, filed suit against Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr. and State Attorney General Albertis S. Harrison Jr. The lawsuit came about after the Virginia General Assembly passed “massive resistance” laws which authorized the governor to close public schools to prevent desegregation. In the wake of the monumental 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka—which ordered that public schools be racially integrated—the Norfolk school board enrolled seventeen black students across six previously all-white schools, by order of the Federal District Court. Rather than allow these six schools to be integrated, Governor Almond ordered them to close. In response, white parents sued Almond and Harrison for violating their children’s equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment by denying them an education. They demanded that the “massive resistance” laws be struck down and that the governor return control to the school board. The lawsuit was a local surprise, as legal action was expected to instead come from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This moment in Virginia’s racial history illuminates fascinating, and concerning, revelations about struggles for social and legal equality. (Click to view article PDF.)

Governor Almond was not alone in his desire to halt integration. Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd helped first organize the “massive resistance” movement throughout the southern states, as early as 1956. That same year, the governor before Almond—Thomas Stanley—passed a bill requiring Virginia public schools to close if the court ordered that they integrate. When Almond was elected in 1957, he ran on a platform directly against racial integration. Almond referred to court orders for integration as “massive attacks” that require “massive resistance." As a result of Almond and the Virginia government’s efforts, 12,700 children were out of school in the state by 1958. Almond and the Virginia government sought to preserve segregated education at all costs—even at the cost of education itself.113

In 1959, one year after this article was published, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the closure of state schools to resist integration was illegal. Almond’s effort to resist the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by closing public schools was quickly challenged—both by blacks and whites—and stopped. “Massive resistance” is a harsh truth within U.S. history that reminds us that Brown v. Board of Education did not mean the end of school segregation in 1954. We should remember Brown v. Board of Education as a monumental decision, but we also need to remember its monumental backlash.

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