Last week, we read a 9th grader's winning essay from John S Mosby Academy's 1960 essay contest that stated "It stands for the right thing; the separation of the Negroes and the whites. These facts should make us even more determined to build a new school and fight integration. Even after we had built the Negroes a nice, modern elementary and high school combined, they followed Oliver Hill and forced us out of our high school" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol. 75, No. 50, 29 February 1960, p.3). To understand this essay, as well as Warren County's closure of schools (see Week 45: Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South), we have to look at a 1954 Supreme Court case and Virginia's race-based laws that guided the public school system.
The 1902 Constitution of Virginia, which was a revision to the 1869 Constitution that had established public education, explicitly stated what had already been implied and practiced throughout the state: "white and colored children shall not be taught in the same school" (Article IX, Sec. 140, 1902). This attitude was amplified as Jim Crow laws and societal expectations separated African Americans from Caucasian Americans across the South. The General Assembly passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, as well as several other laws aimed at protecting "whiteness" from race-mixing. In a Health Bulletin from the Virginia Department of Health, which distributed guidelines to registrars for the purpose "to preserve racial integrity," the following guidelines are communicated: "As color is the most important feature of this form of registration, the local registrar must be sure that there is no trace of colored blood in anyone offering to register as a white person. The penalty for wilfully making a false claim as to color is one year in the penitentiary. Equal care must henceforth be used in stating the color of the parents of children registered at birth under the 1912 law" (Vol XVI, No 1, March 1924). This ideal of racial integrity was most alive in eugenics, which led to laws against mixed race marriages, as well as forced sterilization practices on minority groups in America, especially African American and Indigenous American women.
Locally, concepts of racial integrity cropped up in places of worship: "About one-half of the community is enrolled in six churches - four white and two colored" (Strasburg News, Volume 50, Number 1, 6 January 1932, p16). In doctors appointments: "The Warren County Board of Health cooperating with the Virginia State Department of Health-Tuberculosis Out-Patient Service announces that the chest examination of adults by a specialist of the State Department of Health will be held for white people on Tuesday, May 10, between the hours of 9 and 12 a.m. and for colored people between the hours of 1 and 4 p.m. in the nurse's office in the school" (Strasburg News, Volume 50, Number 17, 27 April 1932 p.1). From newspaper sections to public restrooms, civil leagues to playgrounds, separate swimming times in community pools to public schools, and even the right of local businesses to choose whether or not to admit or serve African Americans, segregation was a natural part of life for America into the 1960s.
Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) set the standard of "separate but equal" (see Week 43: Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?); however, a perusal of facilities across the South revealed this wasn't the case in public education, especially as school districts began their school consolidation plans (see Week 44: An Out-of-area Education). This was the foundation upon which Oliver Hill, a Virginian lawyer and World War II veteran, based his work toward desegregation in America. Hill's work regarding the desegregation of public schools began in 1942 with his first lawsuit against Sussex County, Virginia for admittance of five African American girls to schools that served their white population. Like Shenandoah County, Va, African Americans that wanted a high school education were sent out of county. This, Hill argued, was unconstitutional, since the county did not provide equal separate opportunities for the two races. When the school board opted to pay for transportation to send African Americans to the out-of-county school and admit students to the local high school, the case was dismissed. However, the case in Sussex County set a precedent for tactics used to tear down the institution of segregation that had taken hold of our country.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) incorporated several school boards and boards of education around The United States that were embroiled in five different court cases, including one in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (103 F. Supp. 337, 1952) centered around a student-led protest to integrate schools due to the dismal conditions of the African American high school that were refused alleviation through better funding by an all-white school board. Oliver Hill and another lawyer from the civil rights organization that had formed in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), filed suit on behalf of 117 students trying to integrate Prince William County schools. The court rejected this request; an appeal consolidated it with court cases from South Carolina, Washington DC, Delaware, and Kansas into Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and under the helm of American lawyer, Thurgood Marshall. The outcome was a 9-0 vote in favor of Brown after nearly two years of deliberation. The Court stated: "Today, education is perhaps the most important function of our local and state governments... it is the very foundation of good citizenship" (Fauquier Democrat, Vol. 49, No. 24, 20 May 1954, p.6) and concluded that in addition to the 14th Amendment (see Week 5: The 13th Amendment), since public schools were not in place in 1868, they would have to "consider public education in light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation" (Brown, 347 U.S. 483, 1954). Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered an opinion on the ruling that took into account the psychological impact of students, particularly minority students: "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system" (Brown, 347 U.S. 483, 17 May 1954, p.10). Warren continues: "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (Brown, 347 U.S. 483, 17 May 1954, p.11).
The impact of Brown v. Board was widespread as the ruling encouraged desegregation "with all deliberate speed." From Little Rock, Arkansas (1957) to the first integrated Virginia schools in Arlington (1959), African American students, often encouraged by their parents and supportive community members, were claiming their right to equal education at public schools. Following the 1954 Brown ruling, then Virginia governor, Thomas Stanley (1954-1958) responded, "I shall use every legal means at my command to continue segregated education in Virginia" ("Integrating Alexandria" in The Connection, 22 February 2006), a position which was followed by future Virginia governors, Governor Lindsay Almond (1958-1962), Albertis Harrison (1962-66), and Mills Godwin (1966-1970). By mid-September 1954, Stanley had drawn together a legislative commission of 32 bi-partisan representatives and senators to "recommend a course of action in connection with the Supreme Court's school segregation decision" (Farmville Herald and Farmer-Leader, Vol 63, No 96, 31 August 1954, p.1). Some of the highlights from this council included not requiring compulsory school attendance, providing tuition grants to parents that opposed integration, and allowing local school boards to choose which schools students attended. "A constitutional convention unanimously proclaimed the amendment yesterday. It will permit legislative enactment of the tuition plan provided in the Gray Education Commission program for avoiding enforced integration in Virginia's public schools" (Southwest Times, Vol 51, No 14, 8 March 1956, p.1).
By February 1956, Virginia was promoting Massive Resistance, an anti-integration strategy orchestrated under the guidance of Senator Harry Byrd, who was central to the political life of Virginia from 1916-1965. "Sen. Byrd called today for 'massive resistance' in the South to challenge the Supreme Court order to racial integration in the public schools... 'If we can organize the Southern states for massive resistance to this order I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South,' he said" (Suffolk News-Herald, Volume 34, Number 48, 26 February 1956, p1). Byrd, whose family lived in the Berryville area and was well-known in the Shenandoah Valley, had been one of the leading figures in the Gray Education Commission and impacted the Almond administration.
The term 'massive resistance' was a play on names of the 'passive resistance' orchestrated mostly by African American clergymen in the 1950s, regarding segregated buses, even before the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee organized in 1960. One local paper shared: "Negroes refuse to ride segregated buses in Montgomery, Ala., cradle of the Confederacy. Their leaders, indicted on charges of illegal boycott, call for continued 'passive resistance.'" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 74, No 49, 28 February 1956, p.6). The term, meaning "refusal to go along when the government is considered wrong" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 74, No 49, 28 February 1956, p.6), was derived from Thoreau's philosophical writings on civil disobedience. Instead of focusing on Thoreau, organizers of 'massive resistance' drew their ideals "from ideas expounded by the founding fathers" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 74, No 49, 28 February 1956, p.6).
Those foundational principles were captured in the Southern Manifesto, which was written during the February and March 1956 sessions of Congress. Formally titled, Declaration of Constitutional Principles, the Southern Manifesto denounced the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board as "a clear abuse of judicial power" and encouraged Southern leaders to resist desegregation. Here are highlights from that document that are worth noting:
- "The Founding Fathers... framed this Constitution with its provisions for change by amendment in order to secure the fundamentals of government against the dangers of temporary popular passion or the personal predilections of public officeholders."
- "When the (14th) amendment was adopted in 1868, there were 37 States of the Union... Every one of the 26 States that had any substantial racial differences among its people, either approved the operation of segregated schools already in existence or subsequently established such schools by action of the same law-making body which considered the 14th Amendment."
- "This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding"
- "We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means."
- "We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation."
- "In this trying period, as we all seek to right this wrong, we appeal to our people not to be provoked by the agitators and troublemakers invading our States and to scrupulously refrain from disorder and lawless acts."
The Southern Manifesto was signed by 112 southern members of Congress, including Virginia's own senators, Willis Robertson and Harry Byrd, and ten representing Virginia from the House of Representatives. Stanley's response to the manifesto was one of hope that it would "be effective in the protection of the rights of the states which have been threatened in so many instances, in and outside the South, and which include the right of operating our public school systems" (Suffolk News-Herald, Vol 34, No 62, 13 March 1956, p.1).
By this time, Massive Resistance included laws that refused state funding to schools that supported integration, gave power to the governor to close schools, and established a state-level Pupil Placement Board for assigning students to schools throughout the state. As we will see, the Pupil Placement Board followed established practices in districts, seeking to reinforce the status quo, which was predominantly a racially segregated school system.
In 1959 with massive resistance found to be unconstitutional, Governor Almond's position highlighted similarities to the massive resistance encouraged by Gray, but framed in a way that allowed for controlled integration over a long period of time, so that the administration did not go against the Brown decision and in hopes that the federal opinion might change. The Northern Virginia Daily shares: "He took occasion to attack the U.S. Supreme Court and said that as governor he 'will not yield to that which I know to be wrong and will destroy every rational semblance of public education for thousands' of Virginia children. The people, 'they and they alone,' will decide these issues, said Almond. He added, 'we have just begun to fight.' He said no price is too high to pay and no burden too heavy to bear 'to protect the people of Virginia in the proper enjoyment of their right and obligation to mold the character and promote the welfare of their children through the exercises of their voice and judgment in their education and development.' Almond declared people of Virginia through their elected representatives and by expressing their convictions at the polls 'have repeatedly made it crystal clear that they cannot and will not support a system of public education on a racially integrated basis. I made it equally clear that I cannot and that I will not break faith with them.' The governor said no parent or guardian 'is under legal compulsion from any source to send a child to a racially-mixed school.' He lauded the magnificent response of people in certain areas to the emergency resulting from the closing of nine public schools. 'The hardships and sacrifices have constituted a challenge to overcome obstacles with the result that fundamentally sound educational progress is being made without chaos or undue confusion,' he said" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 77, Number 17, 21 January 1959, p.8).
"In some of the five still wholly segregated states, integration is not even considered a serious possibility in the near future. In the others, there is increasing realization that the time draws nearer when a hard choice may be faced: accept integration or close the public schools. Determination to resist as long as possible and yield only under overwhelming pressure is widespread..." states another local paper. "Virginia's 'massive resistance' program collapsed and it experimented with private schools before adopting a freedom of choice plan. Under it, some schools have integrated. In Prince Edward County, on the other hand, public schools were closed and private schools were opened for white children" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 75, No 24, 29 January 1960, p.7). This freedom of choice plan, which we saw in conjunction with Warren County Public School closure, provided a "local option on school mixing, with the extent of that mixing to be limited sharply everywhere through careful screening under a pupil-placement plan... the U.S. Supreme Court has held that a pupil-placement plan is proper so long as it does not bar Negroes from white schools solely because of race..." thus "it may well be legal to limit drastically the number of Negroes in formerly all-white schools, perhaps for generations, such things as health, location of schools and homes, personal qualifications, etc." (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 75, No 9, 12 January 1960, p.1).
Next week, our focus is entirely on the Pupil Placement Board, as well as its impact on the Shenandoah County Public Schools system, which was then still steeped in Virginia's 1902 law: "white and colored children shall not be taught in the same school" (Article IX, Sec. 140, 1902).
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
52 / Remembering & Moving On
51 / Integration & Teachers
50 / In Our Own Community
49 / S J H S
48 / Not One Positive Step
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day