Gray Commission

The Commission on Public Education, chaired by state senator Garland Gray, issued its final report on November 11, 1955. Governor Thomas B. Stanley appointed the Commission on August 30, 1954 and charged it with examining the effect of the Brown v. Board decision and making recommendations for the state concerning the decision. The Commission held public hearings where blacks and whites spoke, but the Commission was all white, all men, and all legislators, many of whom represented Southside Virginia counties. The Commission's report proceeded from the belief of its members that the Brown decision was bad law and wrongheaded social policy. "No one dreamed that it had any application to segregation in the public schools," the Commission explained of the 14th Amendment's origins. The Brown case, the Commission asserted, "uprooted the law long laid down and followed by eminent judges." The Court, the Commission defiantly reported, "abandoned all legal precedent" in favor of the sociology of Gunnar Myrdal. The Court's action was far reaching in its importance because it was "judicial legislation" and threatened "the fundamental . . . rights of the states." The Commission detailed what it saw as progress in Virginia's educational system, pointing out that Virginia employed more black teachers (some 6,000) than all of the non-Southern states combined. Progress in public education, the Commission wrote, would have been impossible without segregation, and progress for black children would have been doubly impossible without segregation. The Supreme Court, furthermore, "gave no consideration to the adverse effect of integration upon white children." The Commission concluded that segregation was best for both races and that "compulsory integration should be resisted by all proper means in our power." The Commission recognized that the investment in public schools was local and the schools depended on local support. "We must leave a large measure of autonomy to the localities," the Commission predicted, "even though that may result in the closing of public schools." The Gray Commission wanted to give local school boards "wide discretion" to deal with desegregation, but it was more than willing to tolerate the closing of local public schools and foresaw a move toward private academies. The Commission stated the problem as it saw it plainly: "the problem of continuing a public school system and at the same time making provision for localities wherein public schools are abandoned, and providing educational opportunities for children whose parents will not send them to integrated schools." The Commission's solution was two-fold. First, localities would have the power to assign pupils to schools and manage the desegregation process on their own. Second, because the Commission held that "no child be required to attend a school wherein both white and colored children are taught," parents would be "given tuition grants" for alternative education. To be able to provide tuition grants, the Commission recommended that the state amend section 141 of the Virginia State Constitution which barred the use of public funds for private education. The Gray Commission's emphasis on local handling of desegregation orders from federal courts should not be mistaken for a willingness to accept "token integration." Instead, the Commission clearly saw the localities as the government closest to the people and, therefore, in a position to accomplish most effectively what the state might not--avoiding what it consistently called "enforced integration." The Commission repeatedly implied and made provision for a future in which some localities closed their public schools systems and used tuition grants to allow parents to send their children to private schools. Still, the Gray Commission's recommendations were perceived widely to allow some integration in localities that allowed it. Its "local option" approach was abandoned in the rush to massive resistance in 1956.