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Reply #107: School desegregation, Southern Manifesto, and Massive Resistance [View All]

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Brewman_Jax Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-11-07 04:32 PM
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107. School desegregation, Southern Manifesto, and Massive Resistance
In response to the order for school desegration as ordered in the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, the South, in essence, began a second Civil War in its avoidance policies. Those policies were contained in The Southern Manifesto and the policies of Massive Resistance.

The Southern Manifesto

On the floor of the U.S. Senate last week (week of March 19, 1956), Georgia's Walter F. George read a manifesto signed by 82 Southern Representatives and 19 Southern Senators. It pledged the signers to exert "all lawful means" toward reversing the Supreme Court's desegregation decision, and it appealed to Southerners "to scrupulously refrain from disorder and lawless acts."

The idea for a "Southern Manifesto" was conceived by South Carolina's Senator Strom Thurmond, who enlisted the powerful aid of Virginia's Senator Harry Byrd. At a caucus of Southern Senators, Thurmond produced mimeographed copies of his own arm-waving call for nullification. The caucus pushed Thurmond aside, ordered the paper rewritten by more temperate Senators. The final version was written mostly by Georgia's Senator Richard Russell, with amendments by Florida's Spessard Holland and Texas' Price Daniel and polishing by Arkansas' highly polished J. William Fulbright, a liberal hero. At that point Strom Thurmond elbowed his way back onto the scene, posed for photographers dictating the final draftwith which he had nothing to doto his wife seated at a typewriter.

Many signers regretted the manifesto and its party-splitting implications. Said one Southern Senator: "Now, if these Northerners won't attack us and get mad and force us to close ranks, most of us will forget the whole thing and maybe we can pretty soon pretend it never happened." It was not that easy: during the week, a succession of Northern Democrats attacked the manifesto. Not a Southerner arose in reply.

Massive Resistance

"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." With these words, Senator Harry Flood Byrd launched "Massive Resistance", a deliberate campaign of delay and obfuscation. As head of the commonwealth's most powerful political organization, known as the "Byrd Machine," Byrd, a former governor (1926-1930), orchestrated Virginia's response to the Brown decision. Massive Resistance was intended to slow to a crawl attempts to integrate Virginia's schools generally and to minimize the effects of integration where it did occur.

The Initial Reaction: 1954-56
Agreeing with Senator Byrd, Governor Thomas Bahnson Stanley appointed a commission in August 1954 to determine possible options for defying the Brown decision. After meeting for more than a year, the Gray Commission, named for State Senator Garland Gray, proposed in November 1955,

-that laws concerning school attendance be amended so that no child would be required to attend an integrated school,

-that funds be allocated as tuition grants for parents who opposed schools comprised of white and black students, and

-that local school boards be authorized to assign white and African American students to particular schools.

This recommendation later became the statewide agency Pupil Placement Board that had the power to assign students to schools and approve requests for transfer.

In January 1956 white Virginians overwhelmingly supported a referendum to call a constitutional convention. After months of debates in the General Assembly, Governor Stanley ruled out control of anti-integration efforts at the local level and proposed to deny state appropriations to schools that integrated. Gray and the other commission members repudiated their report (which recommended what the Governor was proposing) and supported his plan. "Massive Resistance" became enshrined in the new state constitution. Virginians reacted to these decisions by petitioning and corresponding with Governor Stanley and local and state leaders.

Indeed, it was Massive Resistance. In 1958, the Virginia state legislature gave the Governor the power to close any of the state's white public schools scheduled to be integrated. On September 27, when seventeen black students sought to enroll at six of Norfolk 's white public schools, Governor Almond issued an executive order closing all six of Norfolk 's white schools that were to be integrated. Two days later, almost 10,000 white students found that they had no institution to attend. In addition, the seventeen African American students who sought to transfer into the previously all-white schools were locked-out. The Norfolk 17 -- Geraldine Talley, Louis Cousins, Betty Jean Reed, Lolita Portis, Reginald Young, LaVera Forbes, James Turner Jr., Patricia Turner, Edward Jordan, Claudia Wellington, Andrew Heidelberg, Alvarez Gonsouland, Delores Johnson, Johnnie Rouse, Olivia Driver, Carol Wellington, and Patricia Godbolt -- attended school at Bute Street Baptist Church, where they were tutored by local teachers and supervised by the NAACP.

As the school-closing crisis intensified in the winter of 1958, an effort was launched by James G. Martin, IV, and W.I. McKendree, the leaders of the segregationist Tidewater Educational Foundation, to divert public money to white private schools in Norfolk. Fittingly, however, the entire effort fell apart on the anniversary of Robert E. Lee's birth, January 19, 1959. It was at that time, that the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared in Harrison v. Day that the school closings violated section 129 of Virginia 's State Constitution, which required the state to "maintain an efficient system of public free schools." At the same time, the federal district court in Norfolk ruled in James v. Almond -- a case brought by white parents -- that Virginia 's school closing statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and that it was therefore illegal. After a semester of showdown, then, the Norfolk 17 entered six of the previously all-white schools in the city, and Massive Resistance ended.

Although Norfolk 's six closed schools re-opened in February 1959, on a so-called "integrated" basis, the school closings were important for two reasons. First, the closings in Norfolk affected the largest school district in the state of Virginia, and resulted in the largest school closing crisis in the nation. And second, when Norfolk 's schools were reopened in 1959, it seemed as if a peaceful and legal resolution to the integration crisis might be possible, for Massive Resistance had been bested in the courts. This proposition would be tested over the next three decades, and would ultimately lead to the third major educational showdown in Norfolk -- over busing and desegregation.

While Prince Edward Co. was in many ways typical of other southern rural communities of the time, the community distinguished itself from most other southern towns in response to the Brown decision. To avoid school desegregation, the Prince Edward County School Board closed its schools in 1959, posting No Trespassing signs on the buildings. In the first year, about 1,800 African American children were locked out of their schools. When schools finally reopened in 1964, almost 2,500 African American children had been without public schooling for five years. For white children a segregated system of private academies was hastily organized with tuition grants from public funds. Segregationists elsewhere also gave money to help finance these private academies.

Massive Resistance would continue in the cases of Central High School in Little Rock and Gov. Wallace's obtruction at the University of Alabama to name a few.

Writer's Note: Unlike the 5-year closure of Prince Edward Co. public schools, the Norfolk public schools were closed for only weeks. IMO, the much more populated area of Norfolk could not effectively shut out black students without harming white students in the process. The less-populated Prince Edward County could absorb the area's white students into private academies and still shut out the area's black students.

This entry is to show the extent that the white power structure, with collaboration from a racist and uncaring populace, would go to avoid integration. Racism didn't magically disappear because of the Supreme Court decision. /,9171,824106... (3/26/56 issue)

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