A rumbling in the museum : the opponents of Virginia's massive resistance

Hershman, James Howard, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Gaston, Paul M., Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia

A Rumbling in the Museum: The Opponents of Virginia's Massive Resistance

James Howard Hershman, Jr.
University of Virginia, 1978

This dissertation is a study of the blacks and white liberals and moderates who opposed Virginia's policy of massive resistance to the United States Supreme Court's school desegregation ruling in the Brown case.

The origin of and continued demand for desegregation came from black Virginians who were challenging an oppressive racial caste system that greatly limited their freedom as American citizens. In the 1930's they began demanding teacher salaries and school facilities equal to their white counterparts. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People provided lawyers and organizational assistance as the school protests became a mass movement among black Virginians. In 1951, the protest became an attack on public school segregation itself.

The Brown decision and the response to it split white opinion into three groups. A few white liberals publicly accepted racial integration as good; extreme segregationists vehemently rejected any change in the racial caste system; a third group occupied the more complex middle or moderate position. The political leadership of the moderates came from a diverse group of figures drawn from all of the state's major political factions and parties. The moderate leaders favored modernization of state government, rapid industrial and economic growth, and a strong system of public education. Before the Brown ruling, many moderates were prepared to make some concessions to black Virginians and to ameliorate the blatant humiliations of the racial caste system. Their response t0 Brown was conditioned by their belief in obedience to constitutional authority, their commitment to public education and economic growth, and their concern for the international image of the United States as a democratic society. In practical terms, their response to Brown was to compromise, allow some desegregation, preserve the public schools, and, in general, to limit and slow down the changes in the racial caste system.

Moderate plans centered on the use of pupil assignment procedures by local school boards to limit desegregation. In contrast to the massive resistance program, which required a state-wide unity of defiance, the moderates believed that localities should determine their own adjustment to desegregation. The diverse and highly individualistic moderate leaders, however, failed to provide a unified opposition leadership and were unable to overcome the emotional appeal of the extreme segregationists.

The repressive and obstructionist tactics of massive resistance, however, did not stop the black demand for desegregation, and NAACP attorneys fought and defeated in the federal courts the various legal bulwarks of the resistance plan. In 1958, with the prospect of closed public schools an approaching reality, massive resister control over public opinion and the political arena began to slip. Middle class white citizens in several communities threatened by school closing organized "save our schools" committees. These citizens, "joined" by the managers of some of the industries that had recently entered the state, formed an effective state-wide lobby group, the Virginia Committee for Public Schools. In January, 1959, when the federal and state courts struck down the school closing laws, moderate forces were strong enough to back successfully Governor Almond's retreat from the resistance camp and block any attempt to continue the defiance of the federal courts. Moderate thinking prevailed when the Perrow Commission formulated J a new plan to deal with desegregation. In the 1959 primary election, moderates, backed by liberals and blacks, decisively turned back a massive resister political offensive. Catching the shift in public sentiment, significant leaders of the Byrd Organization adopted the public education issue and other moderate issues, thus keeping the Byrd Organization in power another decade while jettisoning many of its traditional policies. After briefly allying in 1959, moderates and liberals split and, ironically, the moderate school plan became the next obstacle in blacks' struggle for full school desegregation.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Massive resistance, Segregation in education -- Virginia, African Americans -- Education -- Virginia, School integration -- Virginia

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2015-10-01 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:36:46.

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