After nearly two decades of legal challenges against racial segregation in public schools and higher education, on May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that school segregation was unconstitutional. Their decision paved the way for desegregation of educational institutions. Before Brown v. Board of Education, legal segregation had existed under the "separate but equal" doctrine, but for the most part, the separate educational facilities and opportunities the Southern states offered to African Americans were inferior, not equal, to those for white Americans. In 1956, Virginia's General Assembly adopted a policy of "Massive Resistance," using the law and courts to obstruct desegregation.
The Brown v. Board of Education decision and Virginia’s policy of Massive Resistance prompted many Virginia citizens to send letters and petitions to elected officials. However, it soon became clear that Governor Thomas Stanley, along with many other white politicians in Southside Virginia (where the powerful Byrd Organization’s political base resided) would not accept desegregation under any circumstance. Stanley created a committee to respond to the Brown decision, composed primarily of Southside politicians. This resulted in the “Gray Plan,” named after the committee’s chairman, segregationist Garland Gray, which gave the localities the choice to desegregate their schools and additionally provided legislation that would allow the localities to skirt integration if they wished.
Citation: Letter from Eliza E. Fitch, Charlottesville, to Governor Thomas B. Stanley, Richmond. June 26, 1954. Virginia, Governor (1954 – 1958: Stanley), Executive Papers, 1954-1958, Accession 25184, Box 110, Barcode 1057563, Folder Integration 1954, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
In Their Shoes: Write your own letter addressed to Governor Stanley on what you think of his decision on Massive Resistance.
Analyze: Why did Eliza E. Fitch bring up the Army? Does it make her argument stronger?
Analyze: How were the experiences of a black student in a public school different from that of a white student?
Political Plans: If you were Governor Thomas Stanley, how would you have responded to Virginian's reactions to Brown v. Board of Education?