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Elusive Equality

Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk's Public Schools

Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford

Publication Year: 2012

In Elusive Equality, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford place Norfolk, Virginia, at the center of the South's school desegregation debates, tracing the crucial role that Norfolk’s African Americans played in efforts to equalize and integrate the city’s schools. The authors relate how local activists participated in the historic teacher-pay-parity cases of the 1930s and 1940s, how they fought against the school closures and "Massive Resistance" of the 1950s, and how they challenged continuing patterns of discrimination by insisting on crosstown busing in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the advances made by local activists, however, Littlejohn and Ford argue that the vaunted "urban advantage" supposedly now enjoyed by Norfolk’s public schools is not easy to reconcile with the city’s continuing gaps and disparities in relation to race and class.

In analyzing the history of struggles over school integration in Norfolk, the authors scrutinize the stories told by participants, including premature declarations of victory that laud particular achievements while ignoring the larger context in which they take place. Their research confirms that Norfolk was a harbinger of national trends in educational policy and civil rights.

Drawing on recently released archival materials, oral interviews, and the rich newspaper coverage in the Journal and Guide, Virginian-Pilot, and Ledger-Dispatch, Littlejohn and Ford present a comprehensive, multidimensional, and unsentimental analysis of the century-long effort to gain educational equality. A historical study with contemporary implications, their book offers a balanced view based on a thorough, sober look at where Norfolk’s school district has been and where it is going.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-xiii

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Introduction

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pp. 1-7

The most popular vignettes in the history of Norfolk, Virginia, usually consist of the yellow fever disaster of 1855, Civil War and world war tributes, urban renewal, and, of course, the school closures crisis of 1958–59. These stories are the first to be related to newcomers and tourists, ...

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Chapter One. Discrimination and Dissent: Norfold under the old Dominion, 1938-1954

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pp. 8-47

It certainly was unusual. On June 25, 1939, at St. John’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Norfolk, Virginia, over 1,200 African Americans signed a petition requesting that the city’s school board rehire chemistry teacher Aline Black, who had recently been dismissed from her position at nearby Booker T. Washington High School. Just prior to the St. John’s meeting, ...

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Chapter Two. Courage and Conviction: Moderation's Failure in Norfolk, 1954-1958

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pp. 48-79

It seemed so reasonable, and thus so Virginian, a response at the time. In May 1954, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Professor Herbert A. Marshall encouraged his all- black class at the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College to consider the possible impact of the recent ruling outlawing segregated public schools. As the class progressed, a student noticed that a visiting white journalist,

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Chapter Three. Conflict and Continuity: Desegregation's Difficult Birth in Norfolk, 1958-1959

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pp. 80-113

It was not supposed to happen that way. The fix was already in when Norfolk’s city council agreed to hear from those who opposed the closing of six all-white schools due to court-ordered desegregation. Just the night before in a closed dress rehearsal, the councilmen, along with school board members, legislators, and the Byrd machine’s main lieutenant in Tidewater, Corporation Court Clerk William L. Prieur, ...

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Chapter Four. Protest and Progress: The All-American City and the Age of Tokenism, 1960-1968

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pp. 114-149

When Norfolk’s schools opened on September 5, 1963, students at Booker T. Washington High School were furious at what they found. Conditions at the all-black school were appalling. Classes were overcrowded, with forty students stuffed into many of the rooms. The cafeteria was underfunded, with only one steam table to serve more than 2,400 students. ...

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Chapter Five. Busing and Backlash: The Ambivalent Heyday of School Integration, 1968-1975

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pp. 151-189

In 1968, September arrived hot and muggy in Norfolk. As the city’s young people enjoyed the last days of summer vacation, school administrators and teachers prepared for a promising new academic year. In fact, there was much to be proud about in Norfolk. Since the city had introduced its Quality Education program in 1963, the school system had dramatically improved its offerings. ...

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Chapter Six. Cowardice and Complacency: The Road to Riddick and Resegregation, 1975-1987

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pp. 190-235

The twenty-eighth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education generated little fanfare in Norfolk on May 17, 1982. Businesspeople went to work as usual. Navy personnel reported for duty at their posts. And students attended classes throughout the city. Few people discussed the Supreme Court’s historic decision or its implications for the new Reagan era. ...

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Epilogue

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pp. 236-244

Over the past two decades, Norfolk, Virginia, has transformed its once-troubled school system into one of the nation’s most acclaimed urban districts. School officials have raised standardized test scores, narrowed the achievement gap between white and black students in the district, and improved the high school graduation rate for all demo- graphic groups. ...

Notes

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pp. 245-294

Index

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pp. 295-307


E-ISBN-13: 9780813932897
E-ISBN-10: 0813932890
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813932880
Print-ISBN-10: 0813932882

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 18 b&w photos, 4 maps, 1 table
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • School integration -- Virginia -- Norfolk -- History.
  • Segregation in education -- Virginia -- Norfolk -- History.
  • African Americans -- Education -- Virginia -- Norfolk -- History.
  • Public schools -- Virginia -- Norfolk -- History.
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