Special Collections of the ODU Libraries

Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers, 1922-2008 | Special Collections and University Archives

By Jennifer K. Clayton

Collection Overview

Title: Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers, 1922-2008

ID: 00/MG 92

Primary Creator: Norfolk Public Schools (Norfolk, Va.)

Extent: 18.4 Linear Feet. More info below.

Arrangement: The content is arranged chronologically. As such, it is possible that certain topics and materials regarding specific parties may cross series.

Date Acquired: 12/14/2007

Subjects: African Americans--Civil rights, African Americans--Education--Virginia--Norfolk, African Americans--Segregation, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Busing for school integration--Virginia--Norfolk, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Norfolk (Va.)--History--20th century, Norfolk (Va.)--Politics and government--20th century, Public schools--Virginia--Norfolk, Race relations--History--20th century, School closings--Virginia--Norfolk, School integration--Massive resistance movement, School integration--Virginia--Norfolk--History--20th century, Segregation in education--Virginia--Norfolk

Languages: English


This collection dating from 1922-2008, contains correspondence, memorandum, depositions, court orders, recollections, statistical testing data, printed material, artifacts, and maps.The bulk of the collection provides a glimpse into the decisions made by the School Board through court documentation and the public sentiment during the integration process in Norfolk. While most of the collection deals with desegregation, it also includes school directories and calendars before and after desegregation.

Scope and Contents of the Materials

This collection primarily contains material related to the integration of the Norfolk public schools. The papers include correspondence, court cases, school board resolutions, inter-district memorandum, press releases, reports, news clippings and district maps. Subjects covered are the 1958 school closing to prevent integration, integration progress in the 1960s, busing to achieve integration in the 1970s and the end of busing in the mid-1980s. Among the most important historical materials is correspondence between Governor Lindsay Almond and the School Administration, beginning with the letter ordering the closing of six Norfolk schools as mandated by the "Massive Resistance" law. While most of the collection deals with desegregation, it also includes school directories and calendars before and after desegregation.

Portions of the Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers have been digitized and are available in the Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections.

Collection Historical Note

Norfolk, Virginia has twice found itself at the center of a storm of attention related to the racial desegregation of its schools. The first was in the late 1950s during a state-wide, governor-led resistance to the integration mandated by the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS ruling. Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. closed the schools scheduled to be integrated for five months until the courts intervened. The second was in 1986 when Norfolk became the first school district in the country to have a federal judicial ruling allowing them to end busing for the purpose of achieving racial balance in schools.

On September 19, 1958, U.S. District Judge Walter Hoffman issued an order in continuation of Leola Pearl Beckett v. The School Board of the City of Norfolk which said that Norfolk must immediately begin to integrate its schools. On September 27, 1958, the Norfolk School Board placed 17 African American children into previously all white schools in compliance with the judge's order. Earlier in 1958, the Virginia legislature had granted permission to Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. to close any white school that had "negroes" which tried to enroll. On September 27, the same day the children were to start at school, the Governor closed the six affected schools in Norfolk and took them under his control. In all, this impacted more than 10,000 white students and the 17 African American students (the Norfolk 17). In the months that followed, students found avenues to education through private schools, relocation, but mostly through highly organized tutoring groups. In February of 1959, the schools reopened with fewer students-by one estimate almost 2500 fewer.

During the 1960s and 1970s, southern school districts struggled to implement the court-ordered integration in the face of political and community opposition. Districts faced internal challenges of teachers and administrators who did not want to work with students of another race and in many cases had to force involuntary transfers to maintain court-ordered quotas. As African American students began to apply for transfers to predominantly white schools in Norfolk, the district developed a rigorous evaluation system including an examination of records, health requirements, the academic achievement of the student in comparison to the requested school, residence, physical and moral fitness, mental ability (IQ), social adaptability, and cultural background compared to the requested school. The apparent goal and result of these stringent requirements was to give the appearance of compliance, while maintaining the status quo. As the courts and groups such as the NAACP became frustrated with the road blocks to integration, additional court cases were filed and more court orders were disseminated. As the 1960s closed, Norfolk still had not achieved integration and stronger measures needed to be implemented.

The mandatory busing between paired schools in Norfolk, VA began in September of 1971. Within the first weeks of busing, enrollment in the district dropped by 5000 students-within the next two years, an additional 8000 students left the district-mostly white. Four years later, in February of 1975, Judge Mackenzie deemed Norfolk a unitary school district-which meant that it was no longer segregated. As the enrollment of white students continued to drop-termed "white flight"-the School Board became concerned that despite busing, an integrated school district would be impossible to achieve. It examined a multitude of other districts around the country to gain ideas into how best to deal with the challenges. The school board voted in 1983 to end cross-town busing of elementary students, but to continue it for middle and high school. Although they were challenged in the Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk case, their decision was upheld in 1986 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court decision. In the years that followed, a Community Oversight Committee was established to oversee the equity among schools and resources, but disbanded itself in 1991.

Subject/Index Terms

African Americans--Civil rights
African Americans--Education--Virginia--Norfolk
African Americans--Segregation
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka
Busing for school integration--Virginia--Norfolk
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Norfolk (Va.)--History--20th century
Norfolk (Va.)--Politics and government--20th century
Public schools--Virginia--Norfolk
Race relations--History--20th century
School closings--Virginia--Norfolk
School integration--Massive resistance movement
School integration--Virginia--Norfolk--History--20th century
Segregation in education--Virginia--Norfolk

Administrative Information

Repository: Special Collections and University Archives

Alternate Extent Statement: 34 Hollinger Document Cases; 2 oversized Hollinger boxes

Access Restrictions: To access this collection, researchers must first sign a non-disclosure statement in order to protect confidential information.

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: Norfolk, Virginia, Public Schools

Acquisition Method: Gift. Accession #A2007-006

Preferred Citation: [Identification of item], Box [insert number], Folder [insert number and title], Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Old Dominion University Libraries.

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Series:

[Series I: Closing of the Norfolk City Schools, 1954-1960],
[Series II: The Path to a Unitary School District, 1960-1983],
[Series III: Norfolk as a Unitary School District and the End of Busing, 1976-1991],
[Series IV: Directories and Calendars, 1922-2008],
[Series V: Oversized Documents],

Series I: Closing of the Norfolk City Schools, 1954-1960
This series contains documents related to the years immediately following the Brown decision through the closing of some of Norfolk's schools. Of special note is the letter from Governor Almond closing the school and materials about the tutoring groups around Norfolk. There are also letters included which may help the researcher understand the climate of the community both in Norfolk and elsewhere during this time. The letters include a letter from an attorney in Seattle who referred to the School Board as "mongrelizers."
Box 1
Folder 1: Letters, 1954, 1955, 1958
Folder 2: Norfolk City Council & School Board, 1955-1958
Folder 3: Integration-Misc. State Board of Education, 1955-1959
Folder 4: Integration-Misc. Statement of School Board, July 1, 1955
Folder 5: Integration-Misc. Negro Children in White Areas, 1955
Folder 6: Integration-Misc. Defenders, 1955-1956
Folder 7: Integration-Misc. Gray Commission, 1955-1956
Folder 8: Integration, 1956
Folder 9: Williams, Cocke, Worrell, Kelly (Legal Counsel to Norfolk Schools), 1956-1958
Folder 10: NAACP Suit, 1956-1958
Folder 11: Integration Ashe, Madison, Jordan (Negro Attorneys), 1956-1958
Folder 12: Briefs, Beckett Case, 1957
Folder 13: Doctrine of Interposition--Its History & Application, 1957
Folder 14: Operating Costs, 1958
Folder 15: Integration-Misc. Interviewing Committee, 1958
Folder 16: Integration Q & A, 1958
Folder 17: Letters, 1958
Box 2
Folder 1: Correspondence of City Attorney's Office, 1958
Folder 2: Integration-1958-1959, Testing Program, 1958
Folder 3: Salary Reimbursement, 1958
Folder 4: Tuition Grants, 1958-1960
Folder 5: Letters from Governor Almond Closing Schools, September 1958
Folder 6: Integration-Misc. Governor of Virginia, 1958
Folder 7: Integration 1958-1959, Statement by Crenshaw, July 17, 1958
Folder 8: Integration 1958-1959, Tutoring Groups
Folder 9: Integration 1958-1959, Requests for Placements of 89 Tested
Folder 10: Integration 1958-1959, Federal Court
Folder 11: School Board Operations and Correspondence, 1958-1959
Folder 12: Integration 1958-1959 Resolutions Adopted by School Board
Folder 13: Integration 1959-1960 Applications

Browse by Series:

[Series I: Closing of the Norfolk City Schools, 1954-1960],
[Series II: The Path to a Unitary School District, 1960-1983],
[Series III: Norfolk as a Unitary School District and the End of Busing, 1976-1991],
[Series IV: Directories and Calendars, 1922-2008],
[Series V: Oversized Documents],

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