November 12, 1955
Written a little more than a year after the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision, this article, published in the Norfolk Journal Guide on November 12, 1955, speaks volumes about not just the varied reactions to the Supreme Court ruling, but how the court case affected various levels of the education system within the United States. Due to the fact that this article is an overview of significant events in Richmond, it covers a plethora of topics. The ones which stuck out the most to me were the stories on the integration of schools in Richmond and the various groups who were either for or against such a plan. What sparked my interest was the headline of this article emphasizing the Virginia Baptist General Association’s (VBGA) support of the federal mandate that schools be integrated in the United States. It is the Baptist group’s defense of the federal decision through the use of not only Christian rhetoric, but the idea that all children have the right to learn that I found most interesting due to the fact that I have come across a number of contrasting views in previous research. In Benjamin Campbell’s Richmond’s Unhealed History, Campbell recounts moments in which majority white governments approved plans that allowed white children access to schooling over black students, arguing that to allow black students to attend school would be a waste of already scarce resources.
Following the ruling of the VBGA, the article also includes the reasoning of many higher education institutions, including Virginia State College, that educational integration will not only benefit black students, but will benefit students overall. The rationale was that the state would no longer have to spend large sums of money on sending black students to out-of-state schools. Here it is clear that the approval of the new federal integration policies does not arise from a changing ideology about racial equality but instead economic incentives. Such rationale is addressed by Michael Omi and Howard Winant in their work Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, in which they argue that the state has long since taken an active stance in the race debate and that as “the architect of segregation and the chief enforcer of racial difference, [the state] has a tendency to reproduce those patterns of inequality in a new guise.”145 Following this logic, the racial project established at the time of this article’s creation would probably have been one of equality of the races (or as Omi and Winant term it, “liberal”), when in reality there were a number of underlying reasons for accepting federally enforced integration in schools. Such acceptance may have had little to do with actual changing racial attitudes, signifying a lack of change in the realities of African Americans in the United States at the time.
As interesting as the acceptance of educational integration in Virginia is, I think it is also important to acknowledge that support by groups like the Virginia Baptist General Association and Virginia State College did lead to some level of change, however small. The significance of such support is perfectly summed up by Dr. Julian Maxwell Hayter, who writes, “But in arriving at a political decision, numbers and organizations are crucial, especially for the economically disenfranchised. Neither that movement nor . . . black people can win political power alone. We need allies.”146 Though Hayter was addressing the actions of black citizens in Virginia and the South to both gain and protect their right to vote, such words sum up the importance of the events in this article and fit them into the larger picture depicting the life of African Americans in Richmond, Virginia, during the 1950s.