Skip to Main Content

Special Collections & Archives Research Guide

Learn how to access, use and experiment with primary resources in the learning laboratory!


On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared segregated schools contrary to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and thus, unconstitutional. Virginia, along with other southern states, mobilized for action against what they perceived as a violation of states’ rights guaranteed to them in the United States Constitution. To offset the court’s decision Virginia’s General Assembly embarked on a program of "Massive Resistance." Massive Resistance, a term coined by Harry F. Byrd, Sr., the leader of Virginia’s Democratic Organization and a leader among southern Congressmen and Senators, was a series of legislative enactments designed to "defend" Virginia’s public school system from integration. The major provision decreed that integrated schools would not be entitled to or receive any funds from the State Treasury to operate. In 1958, Federal District Courts in Virginia ordered schools in Arlington, Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Warren County to desegregate.

To circumvent the courts’ orders and prevent integration, Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. of Virginia, on September 8, 1958, closed the schools in Warren County. Meanwhile, in the hopes of finding a solution, Charlottesville and Norfolk postponed the opening of their schools. But, on September 19, Almond closed two schools in Charlottesville, and on September 27, he closed another six schools in Norfolk. The localities of Warren County and Charlottesville, given the size of their school system, were able to provide adequate schooling, either private or otherwise, during the crisis. In Norfolk, however, the citizens were not prepared for the displacement of 10,000 students.

The collections that follow document school desegregation of Virginia and elsewhere in the country, starting with the Massive Resistance crisis, continuing into the busing lawsuits of the late 1980s. These collections are rich in material, covering the activities of the Norfolk School administration and Board, the Norfolk Committee on Public Schools, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits initiated to reopen the schools, and an expert witness on the 1971 busing plan.

This guide describes the collections relating to the school desegregation crisis housed in the Special Collections and University Archives of Old Dominion University Libraries. The collections concern the events of the school closings in Norfolk and Prince Edward County, but also contain information on Virginia’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision as a whole. Included in these collections are correspondence, reports, legal papers, petitions, press releases, financial records, publications, newspapers, newspaper clippings, and photographs. Material of note includes an artificial collection of scrapbooks and newspaper clippings tracing the history of the desegregation crisis in Norfolk.

Highlights of these materials are now available in our digital collection, School Desegregation in Norfolk, Virginia.

The entries are arranged alphabetically, including the collection number, the inclusive dates of the collection and the collection's size. Links to existing finding aids are included.

Revised: 3/25/2010

Additional resources from the ODU Digital Collections:

Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers

Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE)


Desegregation Collections

chat loading...