Richmond, VA

Richmond was the largest city or county in Virginia in 1950 with over 230,000 residents, 30.7 percent of whom were African American. For all of its demographic and economic diversity, Richmond lived as much in the past as the present. Memories of the Civil War and of emancipation competed for public attention and events of the fifties and sixties were refracted through the lens of public memory. The result was a city of monuments to the Confederate dead often resistant to social change. The city's major daily newspapers, The Richmond News Leader and the Richmond Times Dispatch, hewed to a conservative line on matters of race. The editor of the News Leader, James J. Kilpatrick, wrote blistering editorials condemning the Supreme Court's Brown decision and led a South-wide campaign for "interposition." The editor of the Times Dispatch, Virginius Dabney, once called for desegregated busing in the middle of World War II but in the fifties could not stomach school desegregation. Richmond's desegregation proceeded slowly after 1959 when massive resistance collapsed. White school board officials, including Lewis Powell, implemented "freedom of choice" plans for assigning students to schools. Few black parents and students went through the transfer application process to attend white schools, and many of those that did were turned down for reasons that ostensibly had nothing to do with race but in effect maintained a starkly segregated educational system. By 1963 just a few hundred black students went to desegregated schools in Richmond out of several hundred thousand black students. Only after the Supreme Court's ruling in Green v. New Kent in 1968 did Richmond begin to desegregate fully, and largely because of school busing plans ordered by Federal district court judge Robert H. Merhige, Jr..