Education from LVA

Robert Leon Bacon Letter

  • Robert Leon Bacon Letter to the Governor, December 2, 1955
  • Robert Leon Bacon Letter to the Governor, December 2, 1955
  • Robert Leon Bacon Letter to the Governor, December 2, 1955
This letter from Robert Leon Bacon, an African American, to Virginia Governor Stanley, describes the hardships African Americans endured while living under massive resistance.
Related documents:
  • Lee-Jackson Camp Resolution
    Lee-Jackson Camp Resolution, January 31, 1958
  • School Desegregation Map
    School Desegregation Map, May 1958
  • <em>Richmond Planet</em> Lynching Article
    Richmond Planet Lynching Article, January 4, 1890
  • Civil Rights Protests in Danville
    Civil Rights Protests in Danville, 1963
« Return to Protest

Robert Leon Bacon Letter to the Governor, December 2, 1955

State and local laws throughout the South and in some other parts of the United States denied basic civil rights to many African Americans in spite of the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition on states' denying people the equal protection of the laws and due process of law. In the face of continued discrimination, many black citizens began contacting politicians like Governor Thomas B. Stanley to discuss their plight or file protests against discrimination. Letters like Robert Leon Bacon's described everyday conditions of life in a racially segregated society. Bacon outlined the places in his community, including restaurants, hotels, and public transportation vehicles, that he was not allowed to frequent because of Jim Crow laws. Bacon specifically mentioned his fear of being lynched if he did anything that whites deemed inappropriate, which was a fear that many other African Americans shared. Lynchings were the execution of an individual without the due process of the law for real or perceived crimes against the community-at-large. By late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century, lynching and other forms of racial violence were used by whites, especially in the South, to intimidate and control African Americans. Bacon also expressed his frustration toward not being allowed to go to certain parts of the city and his inability to join the Virginia National Guard because of his race.

Letters like Bacon's were an outlet for African Americans to discuss their dissatisfaction and to argue for better or even equal treatment with whites. Bacon even stated that he was prepared to leave the state and move to the North if things did not change. Many African Americans did leave the South in an effort to improve their situations. Despite the efforts of regular citizens to reach out to their elected officials, most white politicians did not try to provide more legal protection for their African American constituents.

For Educators


1.  Why did Robert Leon Bacon write this letter?

2. Why is his letter significant?

3. What specific examples of discrimination does Robert Bacon describe?

4. What was Massive Resistance?

Further Discussion

1. What was daily life for African Americans like under Jim Crow? Conduct oral history interviews with people in your community to experienced segregation first hand, or research published oral histories about the Jim Crow era. How do they compare with Robert Bacon's story?

2. For much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the threat of lynching and racial violence intimidated African Americans to accept racial segregation and other racist laws. Research the history of lynching in the United States. When did it start? Why was is tolerated? What impact did it have on black life in America, and particularly in the South? What ultimately brought the practice to an end?


This Day in Virginia: December 2

Suggested Reading

Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

Lee, Lauranett L. Making the American Dream Work: A Cultural History of African Americans in Hopewell, Virginia. Hampton, Va.: Morgan James Publishing, 2008.

516 West Marshall St Richmond 20, Virginia December 2, 1955
Governor Stanely Governor's Mansion Richmond Virginia
Honorable Thomas B. Stanely;
In viewing the recent doctrine of this great segregation debate. I know that the South can no longer rule with police rule. And intergration is coming whether or not the citizens wont it or not. But I was sorry when I tried to enlist into the Virginia National Guard the sergeant told me that no colored people can join it.
I would like to go to places such as the Hot Shoppe, Clover Room, Wakefield Grill, Ewarts Cafeteria and Coles. I cannot eat in these places because I'm colored. I cannot go to the Raleigh Hotel, King Carter Hotel but instead I have to go to Slaughter's Hotel. I cannot go to the Loew's, Grand or Westhampton theatres.
When I get on a V.T.C. bus in Richmond I have to go in the rear. If I sit up in the front I might get arrested and fine[d] by a local judge.
I can hardly look at a white girl for fear that she'll scream "rape" and she'll have some corny story to tell in court about me. Virginia is no place for a colored citizen like me to live in. I am denied many rights and privileges by law that I should have. Virginia is the home of presidents but it is not the home of democracy. It is the home of white supremacy. The colored people (most of them) can hardly live decently in the South.
I cannot go on Monument Ave. and visit a white girl from fear of being "lynched" or beaten up or arrested or electrocuted. But let some white guy come around on Second Street and nothing is done about it. But this happy regime isn't going to last forever I'm going to chase them back where they live at.
The South have been dead since the Civil War. It's never been like the great North. The South certainly did lose the Civil War. Now is the time for us colored people to rise up and demand our rights and first class privileges as citizens should always have.
I don't think that the Southern States beliefs and ideas on segregation are righteously. But if the South did not have their large police forces, all-white National Guards, and the state's arsenals are ran by the whites. If it would for these things segregation would never have existed in this devasting South. I'm leaving this rabish and unjustice South very soon. And I'm telling my many friends up North about my experiences in Virginia.
Intergration is coming soon. I know very soon to ease our aching heart for white friends.
Sincerely yours, Robert Leon Bacon
P.S. If I get lynched in Virginia, I'll not the the only person to die. I've leave a curse for many other white Southerners.