Special Collections of the ODU Libraries

David P. Neff Papers, 1954-1992 | Special Collections and University Archives

By Sonia Yaco

Collection Overview

Title: David P. Neff Papers, 1954-1992

ID: 00/MG 101

Primary Creator: Neff, David P.

Extent: 1.8 Linear Feet. More info below.

Arrangement:

The collection consists of two series:

Series I: Defender Activities

Series II: Neff Research Materials

Date Acquired: 10/03/2008

Subjects: Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, Race relations--History--20th century, Racism--United States, School integration--Massive resistance movement, School integration--Virginia--History--20th Century, Segregation--Law and legislation--Virginia, Segregation in education--Virginia--History--20th century, States' rights (American politics), United States. Supreme Court, Virginia--Politics and government--1951-

Languages: English

Abstract

Dr. Neff has been a professor of History at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach Campus since 1994 as well as an adjunct professor of History at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.  The collection contains documents used by Dr. Neff during the development of his master’s thesis, “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.”

Scope and Contents of the Materials

The collection contains documents used by Dr. Neff during the development of his master’s thesis, “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.”  The collection is separated into two series, Series I, includes primary source documents related to Defender activities, such as copies of newspaper articles, group literature, group achievements, organizational charts, correspondence, information on the group’s activities, organizational newsletters along with bound copies of newspaper articles from The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, Portsmouth Star, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Virginia Integration Magazine and The Defender’s News and Views.  Series II Neff Research Materials, includes personal correspondence generated by Dr. Neff during his research.

Collection Historical Note

Dr. David Pembroke Neff, Ph.D., is a native of Norfolk, Virginia and the grandson of Clarence Amos Neff, a prominent Norfolk architect who was instrumental in developing Norfolk’s urban architecture during the first half of the twentieth century.  Dr. Neff has been a professor of History at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach Campus since 1994 as well as an adjunct professor of History at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.  Dr. Neff earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida in 1984 and two Master of Arts degrees; one in United States History from Old Dominion University in 1992, and another in Liberal Studies, with emphasis in Literature and History from Georgetown University in 1998.  Dr. Neff earned a doctoral degree in 2004 in Higher Education (History Education) from George Mason University.

While a graduate student in history at Old Dominion University, Dr. Neff submitted his master’s thesis titled “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.”  The subject documents the rise and eventual fall of a Virginia segregationist organization, The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, or the Defenders as they were commonly known.  The group formed in October 1954 in Petersburg, Virginia in reaction to the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in which the court ruled that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.  This ruling, which also mandated the desegregation of all public schools throughout the United States, was met with widespread disbelief, anger, and opposition throughout the southern United States; particularly in the states that had comprised the Confederacy during the United States Civil War nearly a century earlier.  The founding membership consisted primarily of prominent business and civic leaders who adamantly opposed the court’s decision on the belief the ruling infringed upon the rights of the states and threatened the continued existence of a southern culture established upon the principle of racial separation.

The Defenders formed with the full intention of resisting the court’s ruling in order to conserve Virginia’s racially segregated society.  While the Defenders pursued the same objective as other segregationist organizations active in the Deep South such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen’s Councils, the Defenders chose to distance themselves from these organizations by rejecting the violence and lawlessness these groups encouraged.  The Defenders believed that violence was an unacceptable solution that would only draw unfavorable attention to their efforts and was therefore counterproductive to their end goal of preserving the racially segregated status quo.  Instead, the Defenders adopted a policy that advocated what they believed was a reasoned defense of segregation by trying to influence the judicial, legislative, and electoral process.  Defender groups quickly formed across Virginia which by September 1955 had grown to twenty-eight chapters with nearly 12,000 active members statewide.  The Defenders aggressively, and in some instances quite successfully, lobbied the Virginia legislature to adopt measures sympathetic to their cause.  The Defenders played a vital role towards influencing anti-desegregation legislation passed by the Virginia legislature in 1956 known as the “Stanley Plan” or more commonly, the “Massive Resistance” laws.  This legislation required the governor to close and withhold funding from any school system in Virginia that was either forced to desegregate by federal court order or who chose to do so voluntarily.

Massive Resistance was put to the test in the fall of 1958 when federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools in Warren and Arlington counties, as well as in the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk.  In response, Governor J. Lindsay Almond immediately ordered schools in these localities closed; an action, which affected thousands of public school students, both black and white.  The Defenders publicly endorsed the governor’s actions and worked closely with numerous other statewide organizations to oppose school desegregation.  On January 19, 1959, both the Federal District Court in Norfolk and the Virginia State Court of Appeals each issued rulings stating the Massive Resistance laws violated the United States and Virginia Constitution, and ordered the immediate reopening of the affected schools.  In response, the Defenders continued their defiant rhetoric opposing integration, but the end of Massive Resistance signaled the beginning of the end for the Defenders.  After the January 1959 court ruling, support for the organization soon began to erode as Virginians simply grew tired of the controversy that had engulfed the state for nearly five years.  The Defenders tried one last effort to reestablish their influence during the 1959 statewide general election by trying to replace moderate Democrats in the Virginia legislature with Defender endorsed candidates; an effort, which failed to achieve its desired outcome.  By the mid-1960s, active membership in the Defenders had dwindled to just a few thousand and was rapidly sinking with each passing year, so much that by 1967 the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties was officially dissolved.

Subject/Index Terms

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties
Race relations--History--20th century
Racism--United States
School integration--Massive resistance movement
School integration--Virginia--History--20th Century
Segregation--Law and legislation--Virginia
Segregation in education--Virginia--History--20th century
States' rights (American politics)
United States. Supreme Court
Virginia--Politics and government--1951-

Administrative Information

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives

Alternate Extent Statement: 1 Hollinger Document Case, 1 Oversized Box

Access Restrictions: Open to researchers without restrictions.

Use Restrictions: Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Acquisition Source: Dr. David P. Neff

Acquisition Method: Gift. Accession #A2008-23

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Box [insert number], Folder [insert number and title], David P. Neff Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Patricia W. and J. Douglas Perry Library, Old Dominion University Libraries, Norfolk, VA 23529.


Box and Folder Listing


Browse by Series:

[Series I: Defender Activities],
[Series II: Neff Research Materials],
[All]

Series II: Neff Research Materials
Folder 1: Letter, Hal Bonney, Jr., 1990
Folder 2: DPN letter to Abbitt, 1990
Folder 3: Permission to use Byrd Papers – UVA
Folder 4: Interview Notes with Dr. Marvin Scheldg
Folder 5: Address Book

Browse by Series:

[Series I: Defender Activities],
[Series II: Neff Research Materials],
[All]

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