Massive Resistance

Massive Resistance refers to the policy of the state of Virginia and its leadership to prevent desegregation of schools specifically and more generally to resist federal policies in the 1950s. United States Senator Harry F. Byrd coined the phrase "massive resistance" as his recommendation for the proper response of Southern states to the U. S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. Byrd and state delegates urged Governor Thomas B. Stanley to call a special session of the legislature in 1956. At the special session in August 1956, the Virginia legislature enacted what came to be called the "massive resistance" laws to prevent school desegregation. Massive Resistance continued into the 1960s; however, it split the Democratic Party. One part. led by state senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr., stood loyal to Byrd, was committed to resisting any change, claimed to act on the principle of states' rights against encroaching federal authority, and refused to support either Kennedy or Johnson and the National Democratic Party platforms on civil rights. Another part of the party, led by Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., conceded the supremacy of federal courts in the matter of school desegregation in 1959-60 and moved to support the National Democratic Party tickets in 1960 and 1964. Massive resistance to school desegregation policies closed schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County in fall 1958 and part of 1959, as well as contributed to the closing of schools in Prince Edward County from 1959 to 1964. One high school was also closed to hundreds of students for a short time in Galax City as white officials there sought to avoid desegregation in 1960. Over 15,000 Virginia students were without schools for at least a semester, thousands in Prince Edward were without schools for five years. Massive resistance was a colossal failure and horribly misguided state policy; it damaged Virginia in numerous ways. Yet, the conservative impulse behind it survived and in the sixties and seventies gained strength. Virginia's massive resistance provided the ideological rhetoric for resurgent conservatives years after its tactical plans went up in smoke.