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 the letters like this one 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: Telegram from Virginia Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers, Petersburg, to Governor James Lindsay Almond, Richmond. November 22, 1958. Office of the Governor, J. Lindsay Almond Papers. Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
Artistic Exploration: Compose your own telegram to Governor Almond.
Analyze: What can you learn from this document?
Analyze: Why do you think Almond took such a strong stance against Brown v. Board of Education?
Current Connections: Are there political leaders now who take strong stances on divisive issues? How do they approach the situation? How does the media portray it?
Analyze: Do some research on the court case Charles C. Green et al. v. County School Board of New Kent County, Virginia. Why do you think this decision added to the pressure of desegregation?