Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

November 3, 1956

Guest post by Dominique Brown, undergraduate student at University of Richmond.

In an article written by Hazel Carter on November 3, 1956, titled “Deadlock in Pittsylvania: Voluntary Segregation Is Rejected By Citizens” in the Norfolk Journal and Guide, she discusses not only the issue of segregation in Virginia schools, but also the continued frequency of unequal education between black and white institutions following the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. In her opening paragraph on page A2, she states:

Negro citizens of Pittsylvania county last week rejected school officials’ voluntary school segregation plan at a mass meeting attended by more than 300 people. Instead the group recommended that representatives meet with the school board to discuss integration and a possible date for beginning integrated classes.

What interested me the most when reading this article was the concept of “voluntary segregation” in schools—the separation of black and white students by choice. However, there existed no such voluntary segregation since it only catered to the desires of the county’s white population who either wanted to avoid integration completely or shut down schools forced to integrate in response. In the article, Carter mentions how the black population of Pittsylvania county rejected school officials’ strong resistance to school racial integration. As mandated by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the county’s black population demanded that the schools follow through with the law. Carter quotes Chairman Burton, “We want to meet this problem with a moderate approach, but we back up the Supreme Court decision as the law. We don’t mean to ask that our children go into white schools next week or next month. We say sit down and let’s see why we are being denied our right, for what other reason other than the color of our skin.” Because, as mentioned by Rev. Mr. Anderson in the article, “We’ve known from the beginning that our schools have been separate but not equal. We could go for another 66 more years and still not be equal…their philosophy now is to keep us separate so it will never be equal.”

Since the publication of this article, sixty years have passed and although much progress has occurred, equality in schools has yet to be reached. De facto segregation—a type of segregation that occurs not by law—is a result of the desire for voluntary segregation. Inner city public schools are not held to the same high academic standards as suburban schools. This is a direct result of white flight from the cities during the 1940s and 50s. Money left the cities, leaving the schools in areas with high black populations to operate in low conditions. There is no such thing as “voluntary segregation.” There exist forces that prevent certain groups from interacting with others. Money makes a great difference in regard to the quality of education someone receives, especially when considering the neighborhood(s) where one was raised.

In his book Richmond’s Unhealed History, Benjamin Campbell mentions the vigor that Richmond’s white population possessed in desperately trying to avoid intermingling with its black population. He writes about a mantra recited by then-senator Harry F. Byrd on February 24, 1956: “If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance against 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.”119

Racial segregation remains a problem not only in the South, but also in the North.

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