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J. Lindsay Almond School Integration Speech, January 20, 1959

Context

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.

In 1957, in the midst of Virginia’s effort to maintain segregation in public schools, James Lindsay Almond Jr., won the gubernatorial election by pledging to uphold “Massive Resistance.”  In September 1958, he closed schools in Charlottesville, Front Royal, and Norfolk rather than see them segregated, regardless of letters that he received to reopen the schools. However, on January 19, 1959, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the school-closing law, the same day that the federal district court in Norfolk made a similar ruling. Almond continued to appeal these rulings, however the closed schools ultimately reopened to an integrated student body. The courts ordered the admittance of small numbers of African American students into formally all-white schools around the state. The federal government put more and more pressure on the state to integrate its schools and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare threatened localities with loss of federal funding if they did not comply. U.S. Supreme Court decisions added to the pressure of desegregation, including Virginia’s own case, Charles C. Green et al. v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia.

Almond did not retreat from his unyielding stance on desegregation until early 1960, when he allowed Virginia schools to integrate, but only with token efforts that embraced passive resistance.

Citation: J. Lindsay Almond School Integration Speech, 20 January 1959 (WRVA–386), WRVA Radio Collection, Accession 38210, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

VS.1, VS.9, USII.1, USII.9, CE.1, VUS.1, VUS.8, VUS.13, GOVT.1, GOVT.3, GOVT.10

Suggested Questions

In Their Shoes: Assume the role of a newspaper editorialist and compose a response to Governor Almond arguing with at least three of his specific reasons why integration is a bad thing for the Commonwealth.

Analyze: Explain why the reference to Soviet Russia would have been included in this speech to address the topic of segregation.

Current Connections: Imagine if a political leader today made this speech. How do you think people would react?

Artistic Exploration: Create a political cartoon depicting Almond and this speech. 

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