School Closings Law

In the 1956 Special Session of the legislature, "an act to establish the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Virginia for the control of certain schools under certain conditions" formed the backbone of the massive resistance plan. This act enabled, indeed required, the state to take control of any school under federal court orders to integrate. The act set forth plainly the problem and the special nature of the legislation: Virginia, it stated, "will be faced with unprecedented obstacles . . . [and] enforced integration of the races . . . could destroy the efficiency of the school . . . and would tend to disturb the peace." The act called for "uniformity of action" across the state and set forth the conditions under which the state government would act. At its core the law provided that any assignment of black students to white schools would "automatically divest" the school from local control, close the school and remove it from the public system, and place its operation in the hands of the state's executive power. In 1957 federal courts ordered school authorities to admit several black applicants to white schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, Arlington, and Warren County, but appeals on these cases dragged on until 1958. In the late summer of 1958 with federal court orders to desegregate upheld and local authorities making some provisions for integration, Governor Almond invoked the provisions of the act and closed schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County. Federal and state court decisions in Harrison v. Day and James v. Almond struck down this massive resistance law in January 1959.