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Petition from Students at Lane High School to Reopen Schools, Charlottesville, September 1958


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


On May 17, 1954, after nearly two decades of legal challenges against racial segregation in public schools and higher education, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that school segregation was unconstitutional. Their decision paved the way for desegregation of educational institutions. Prior to Brown v. Board of Education decision, legal segregation had existed under the "separate but equal" doctrine. However, the separate educational facilities and opportunities the Southern states offered to Black Americans were inferior, not equal, to those designed for white Americans. In 1956, Virginia's General Assembly adopted a policy of Massive Resistance, using the law and courts to obstruct desegregation and to not comply with changes which were being made nationwide in response to Brown v. Board of Education. Virginian's reactions to Brown v. Board of Education were varied -- while some approved the decision enthusiastically, there were also those who bitterly opposed it.

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. By January 1959, both the federal court and state supreme court demanded that schools be reopened, and Massive Resistance laws overturned. 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 Black 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 Departments of Health, Education, and Welfare threatened localities with loss of federal funding if they did not comply.

The students at Lane High School in Charlottesville wrote a letter to Governor Almond in 1958 to reopen their school. They cited their rights to a public education as outlined in the state constitution and alluded to the ruling that state school be immediately reopened. They asked that control of the schools be returned to the local school board and that they be directed to reopen public schools.

Legal battles for the schools to reopen and integrate continued from 1959 to 1964. The legal cases attracted national attention. Finally, on May 25, 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward that the county had violated the students’ right to an education and ordered the schools to be reopened.

Citation: Petition from students at Lane High School, Charlottesville, to reopen, to Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr., Richmond. September 1958. Virginia, Governor (1958–1962), Executive Papers, 1958-1962, Accession 26230, Box 136, Barcode 1052833, Folder Norfolk Segregation, State Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.


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

Suggested Questions

Preview Activity

Scan It: Scan the transcript of the speech. What words of phrases stand out to you?

Post Activities

Food For Thought: Imagine you were a student at this school during this time. Create a petition to Governor Almond on why you think the schools should be open and your thoughts on Brown v. Board of Education.

Social Media Spin: Create a social media post for the anniversary of the signing of the letter to Governor Almond. Be sure to include relevant details about relevant issues which support your post.

Current Connections: Do you think all students receive an equal education today in the United States? Why or why not?