Interview of J. Harry Michael. Interviewed by George Gilliam, Mason Mills, of The Ground Beneath Our Feet project.

The Honorable J. Harry Michael served as a member of the school board in Charlottesville, Virginia in the 1960s and is a lawyer and professor on the faculty at the University of Virginia.

This interview was taken in 2000 for "Massive Resistance," episode four of "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Virginia's History Since the Civil War," a production of George H. Gilliam and the Central Virginia Educational Television Corporation. George H. Gilliam is the Producer of the series, William G. Thomas, III the Assistant Producer, and Mason Mills the Director of Photography.

The transcripts represent what was said in the interview to the best of our ability. It is possible that some words, particularly names, have been misspelled. We have made no attempt to correct mistakes in grammar.

Mr. Gilliam: When did you go onto the Charlottesville School Board?
Judge Michael: 1950, I believe it was. Major Blue, he's now Colonel Blue, was called up in the Korean War. Recalled. Captain Blue, he was then. And he was a vestryman at Christ Church and he'd just been appointed to the city school board. He was called up about a month following his appointment to the school board. And they appointed me to fill out his term, so instead of having just a normal three year term, I had three years minus a month. Two years and eleven months. And I served out his term and then I was thereafter appointed to the three successive terms that an individual could get. So, I had almost twelve years on the school board. Not quite.
Mr. Gilliam: You served on the school board until 1962?
Judge Michael: '61, '62, in that area. It may have been 1949, that Blue- No, when was the Korean War?
Mr. Gilliam: '50. '51, to '52.
Judge Michael: Well it was '50 when Captain Blue was called up. Then he stayed in the Army and retired finally as a colonel.
Mr. Gilliam: Then after your service in the school board ended, you became the attorney for the school board.
Judge Michael: Special Counsel. Yeah, just for the big uproars they had.
Mr. Gilliam: So, your service either as a member of the school board, or special counsel for the school board spanned this entire very contentious period.
Judge Michael: From 1950 to 1980. Because I was still special counsel when I went to the bench.
Mr. Gilliam: So, during your term as a state senator you continued to serve as a special counsel to the school board.
Judge Michael: Yeah. Yeah.
Brown I
Mr. Gilliam: Was it your sense after the US Supreme Court in the Brown case said that racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional that the Charlottesville white community was united against that decision?
Judge Michael: No. Portions of it. My sense of it, at the time Brown versus the Board of Education came down, was that a great majority of the people in the white community thought it was a bad decision. They didn't like it; but they weren't that upset about it. And I think part of the reason is because it is a pretty well educated community. And I think anybody who really thought about it would recognize that the cases after Plessy against Ferguson, as they progressed just gave a clear signal that sooner or later Plessy against Ferguson was going by the board. And I think that, not everybody in the community, but a lot of the leaders, the opinion shapers in the community had a recognition that that was a likely outcome. They didn't really project when it would be, but, they saw it coming. I'll tell you a little story about that. I taught constitutional law at the university law school and, oh when, well I was their from '37 through '52. At one part in dealing with that issue of Plessy against Ferguson, I spent about three days going through the series of cases that followed Plessy. And I made a brief prediction that sooner or later the tendency of those cases indicated that Plessy was going to be overruled. One of these wise asses sitting in the back of the class, pipes up and says, Well Mr. Michael when do you think that's going to happen. I said, well I don't know, but I said certainly I would think in the next twenty years. But the right case has got to come up. Well, I didn't know a thing about Brown versus the Board of Education being in the pipeline. I should have, but I didn't. Well, then came Brown against Board in '52?
Mr. Gilliam: Argued in '52 and decided in '54.
Judge Michael: Well, in '54, I must have gotten 5 or 6 letters from members of that class which in essence said you may be a good prophet but you're darn poor in timing. As a matter of fact, as a result of that particular - well, not just that, but they made me an honorary member of the class of '52. And I've gone to several reunions with that bunch.
Mr. Gilliam: You're just trying to pretend that you're younger.
Judge Michael: I guess. I guess. But, truthfully, I think that most of the opinion makers, the community leaders, not all of them, but most of them, had a sense that Plessy was going to go by the board. When it happened it was a shock. But it was not the sort of shock that it would have been if there had been no intimation that something like that would happen.
Mr. Gilliam: There was a group of whites that were very vocal in their insistence that some sort of program of resistance be entered into. Who was in that group and what effect did they have on the school board?
Judge Michael: Well, I can't tell you who was in the group, because I simply don't remember. I can tell you that it was a small group at least by my judgement it was a small group, very vocal. And some few of them really tried to stir up real resistance, most of them in my judgment didn't want it. They thought it was atrocious, but they weren't going to be the rabble-rousers that some very few of them tried to be. They weren't successful. But, I had the feeling that a group of maybe 5, 10, something like that, really were vigorously opposed and would have roused up the citizonry if they could but their adherents were not a great mass of people. You had a group on one side which was very small, resist to the death. You had another group on the other side, dairly small, said oh well, this is the law, let;s get going. The vast middle group here listened to both sides, but never bought all of it on either side. And sort of waited it out to see what would happen. That was my view of what was going on.
Mr. Gilliam: Which groups appeared to have the most influence on the school board?
Judge Michael: I don't think there was any group that stood out above any other in terms of influence. We were caught in the middle. And we knew it. And we couldn't. We didn't feel that we could swing to one group or the other, that we had to try to steer a middle course.
Mr. Gilliam: There was a small group within the black community that was bringing law suits against the school board. Once the various desegregation plans started, it was again a relatively small group that had applied for transfers to primarily white schools. What were the divisions within the black community?
Judge Michael: I'm not sure I can answer that question. I - my own surmise, that's as much as I can make it, was that they were broken down about the same way whites were. You had one grouping that was just hell bent, right now, let's do it, get it over with. And I think, a great majority of the black citizens felt that this is something that will work itself out. Now, let's take it easy and see if we can't get through to a good solution. I think a great majority of the blacks felt that way. I'm certain that anybody in that strongly pro-integration grouping would disagree with that. And claim that the blacks totally supported them. But, I didn't have that sense. I did have the sense that people, like oh the old gentlemen who ran the grocery store over here where Awful Arthurs is now. I can't remember his name off-hand. And the people of that -
Mr. Gilliam: Inge.
Judge Michael: Inge. Mr. Inge. People of that generation, that background listened to Mr. Eugene Williams for instance who was very strong for immediate integration, as I recall him, and thought and said let's just take it easy a little bit here. Let's not bust the thing wide open, let's let it work its way through and see how where we come out. The courts are going to do something about it now let them do it. That was Mr. Inge's position, at least. Though he certainly strongly supported Eugene Williams.
Mr. Gilliam: Were there members of the black community who were afraid of retribution if they pushed too hard?
Judge Michael: I don't think so. I don't think so. Now that thing's all out of whack.
Mr. Mills: I like that though.
Judge Michael: You don't have the camera on the clock so it doesn't matter. I never had a sense that people were frightened. They were concerned, deeply concerned. But I don't think there was a sense of fight anywhere in the community.
Mr. Gilliam: I'm going to paint with a little bit of a broad brush and try to sharpen the focus a little bit. The school board during the years 1959 to 1964 came up with a series of desegregation plans. And I think it's fair to say that each time the school board came up with a plan the court slapped it down and in some cases the language of the courts was pretty vigorous in condemning what the Charlottesville plan was. Each of the Charlottesville plans seemed to have as a common denominator a feeling that black students were inferior in both aptitude and preparation. And each of the plans seemed to have as a component for moving black students into the white schools' aptitude and achievement testing. And initially that was approved by the courts, then after two years of application of the plan the Fourth Circuit held that the way it was being applied was unconstitutional. It was discriminatory. Putting aside your own personal feelings, because I think at the time these plans were being developed you were no longer a member of the board, but were acting as an attorney for the board. Was it your perception that the members of the school board believed that the black students were inferior in terms of preparation and aptitude? What can you tell me about the development of these plans?
Judge Michael: Not too much, because they were developed actually after I had left the board. And though I served as special counsel to the board, I never was involved in their integration matters. That is something that McGuire and Battle, the old McGuire, Perkins and Battle firm were involved in. I never felt, and I don't think the board felt that there was any inant inferiority. I think that the socio-economic background and the schools in which they had been enrolled were factors that damped down their accomplishments - their capabilities. Not their capabilities, but their ability to achieve. Not a mental inferiority at all. I never felt that and I don't think the school board felt it. We knew perfectly well that there were white students and black students who weren't going to do well. We also knew that there were whites and blacks who would do well. And some of the blacks in particular, would do well in spite of handicaps that most of the whites didn't have. Social-economic level from which they came. The less good preparation they got in grammar schools coming on up, led to the feeling that they needed, that the black students who were integrated, may need additional help. But not because of mental inferiority, I don't think that ever was a factor.
1960s School Zones
Mr. Gilliam: Most of the desegregation plans which Charlottesville proposed in the late '50s and early '60s, started out with a system of schools zones which recently have been referred to as neighborhood schools.
Judge Michael: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: Can you describe how that system worked and what the thinking was behind the system of school zones or neighborhood schools?
Judge Michael: Well, the problems there are deep rooted. When I was on the school board we were talking about building a new high school. And the proposal would have put about 1500 students in the school. I was opposed to that. Still am. My own view is that any time you get more than about 700, 750 maybe 800 students in a school you're at the upper limit of where you ought to be. And If that means building more schools then so be it. And that was a sentiment in the board. I voted against that high school because I felt it was too big. That's my recollection of what I did. That ran squarely contrary to the current thinking of the education establishment, which was get them all together you can handle it. But, that underlying theme was there and it surfaced to some degree, in the idea that we would use neighborhood or zone schools to keep the population in an individual school at an appropriate level, and still manage to draw the zones so that you did get some possibility of a mixture of black and white. I think that was the thinking that was there. When they drew the zones, they tended though to draw them black and white. And I think there's where a mistake was made. If they had gone along with the original thinking, smaller neighborhood schools with neighborhoods drawn so that integration was at least feasible that might very well have worked out well and it would have done one thing that I would have liked. It would have gotten to a smaller, individual schools in the system.
Mr. Gilliam: Could you describe how the school zones were established and what the thinking was behind the establishment of neighborhood school zones?
Judge Michael: Well, I think the source of that thinking is deep. It goes back to a conviction on my part at least, and I think a feeling by many of the school board members that big schools were bad schools. That ran squarely counter to the thinking of the current education establishment, which was put them in one big pile and we'll work it out. And when the proposal came around for a new high school for Charlottesville, they wanted to build one that would accommodate something around to 1500 students. And I was opposed to that. It was built after my term on the school board, but I was opposed to it then too. And in the planning stages, which are discussion stages, which came up before I left the board, I was opposed to it and made no bones about it. The thought of having smaller schools, I think, underlayed the whole thinking about this zoning they were thinking about, but the integration matter was the impelling force, not - but the hope that you could get to a zoning system that would permit smaller schools, in my view was a good thing. The initial thinking was that you would set these zones so that when the integration became a finality and everything was out of the way, you would have zones where there would be a reasonable integration black and white students in each of the individual schools. That, I think, was very good thinking. What happened though- when they started to draw zones they tended to draw them to perpetuate a white school and a black school. That, I think, was the error in it. But up to making the mistake, I favored the idea, of having the small zone, neighborhood, whatever you want to call it. The smaller schools. If that meant building more schools, all right, so be it.
Mr. Gilliam: The school zones for the elementary schools that were in fact drawn and every black student was assigned to the Jefferson School and not a single white student was assigned to the Jefferson School.
Judge Michael: This is what I say; that's where the error was.
Mr. Gilliam: Judge, with the housing patterns, the historic housing patterns in Charlottesville, was there any other way to draw these lines without having gerrymandered districts?
Judge Michael: Well, no, the housing pattern- housing pattern dictated that you would have to gerrymander in order to get that balance that you want. Or that you would want when all the stirring around was done and integration was accomplished. You would have had some strange looking districts. But that's- I've been through two redistrictings on state level and I know what that is. It is a mean hard task but it can be done.
Mr. Gilliam: To avoid gerrymandering and to try to permit some integration to take place the school board allowed a procedure by which a student in one school zone could apply to be transferred to another zone. And as I understand it not a single white child applied for a transfer into one of the all black school. A small number of black children applied for transfer into one of the white schools. Why were the numbers who tried for the white schools of those who applied for the transfers so small?
Judge Michael: I think that's nothing in the world, but a reflection of what I've been talking about that the whole community was sort of waiting to see how the thing worked out. There were very few applications for transfer as I recall, very few and I think that is because the whole community, not just blacks, but blacks whites and anything in between, was wanting to let it work its way through and see if it didn't come out with a proper integration pattern.
Mr. Gilliam: Initially not a single black was approved for transfer.
Judge Michael: I didn't know that.
Mr. Gilliam: Until the court ordered that each of the blacks who applied for transfer must be approved.
Judge Michael: You're talking in the 1960s, now?
Mr. Gilliam: Yes.
Judge Michael: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: Why would no black get approved for transfer? If the goal was to permit some sort of orderly integration and if the numbers were so small, what were the school board thinking at this time?
Judge Michael: I can only surmise that they- the feeling was if no more than this grouping wanted to apply then lets just hold steady until we get through to the end of this process. I don't know no other explanation. I don't think there was any conscious thought on the part of anybody, well let's just cut them down and not let it happen. I don't think that was the case. I can't stress enough that there was a period of watchful, careful waiting to see how the courts came down on all of these cases and as they made the decision the community abided by it. I'm not trying to preach sweetness and light through all of this. Because, certainly this wasn't the case, but on the other hand I also am fully aware of the fact that we didn't have any of the riots and uproar that other communities did. And part of that, I think, is because of this feeling that this is going to work out right. Brown against Board of Education has told us what we got to do. Now we've got to work through the process and find out how to do it. "All deliberate speed" is a fine phrase but does it mean? That was, I can't stress enough, that that was a strong feeling in the community. Now, I don't mean that that was a universal feeling. Because there were still those that said segregation forever and the other group saying integration now, small groups on each side, but the big middle bunch was saying let this thing work out. But in the course of all this maneuvering, so to speak, there were immediate problems that had to be faced. You had, when massive integration took hold, you had Lane and Venable closed. You had a big mass of students put out here on the streets and something had to be done you couldn't just turn them loose. And that's when I think one of the great things that happened in the course of this litigation took place. And that's when the churches, principally the churches, but not entirely, decided they would make available classroom space for these displaced students and they did. They provided acceptable accommodations, not the best, but acceptable accommodations for the students. And for the period while those schools were closed, those little church school did business, continued. And one of the marks of distinction, I think for the teaching group in this community is that not a single teacher failed to take those classes. Not a single one. They were all under contract, they had been given contracts and then the schools closed. They could have sat home, we still would have been obligated to pay them because they were under contract. But they chose not to. Not a single one did that and I tip my hat to them for that and at that time too another factor was working through the community and that's this drive towards independent schools. And you saw them popping up, not popping up but two or three of them got organized and they had a fair number of students who applied and were accepted, and went into the private schools. I always felt that those first parents were not necessarily those who were just hell bent against integration but they were thinking well look we know two schools have been closed, we don't know what's going to happen, this is a resource that we can use to educate our children, let's use it. And that was the force that I think that drove so many parents to put their children in the private schools because of the uncertainty, the spectre of having all of the schools closed. If it was imagination on the part of some, others would say well, look at Lane and look at Venable it's happened and that was a powerful motivation.
Segregation Academies
Mr. Gilliam: One of the components of the package of Massive Resistance was that the General Assembly enacted in 1956 was the program of tuition grants and when the schools in Charlottesville, Lane and Venable were briefly closed in '59 and in '60, as you described a group of parents established an independent school. Because of court challenges to the program of tuition grants the tuition grants were never actually paid during that first year and so the private schools were compelled to close and didn't reopened again until 1961 when the legality of the tuition grants had been clarified and approved. And that sequence has led some people to say that the independent schools-
Mr. Mills: You keep asking the question; I just need to fix that. I'm sorry to interrupt.
Judge Michael: No, no.
Mr. Gilliam: -that sequence has led some to say that the, so-called, freedom academies would never have survived without state aid. What's your read on the necessity of state aid if independent schools were to be successful?
Judge Michael: Well, I think that certainly, state aid helped those schools, no question about it. Some of them did fail. But I'm not at all convinced, that R.E. Lee for instance would not have continued without the state aid. For two reasons, one because of that sense of uncertainty I've been speaking about and secondly, because they did a fine job of educating children. I think they would have continued without state aid. Some of them. Not all of them of course. But the aid certainly was a great help, no question about that.
Mr. Gilliam: Going back to something we were discussing a few minutes ago. You indicated that the school board was waiting to see what the courts would do before they moved and the picture that you were painting was of leadership shifting from the elected officials of Charlottesville, to the courts. In the first instance the federal courts and then later to the state courts. What is your assessment of the way the elected leadership reacted to this crisis?
Judge Michael: Well, essentially I think the elected leadership was, at first somewhat paralyzed by Brown against Board of Education. But then you've got look at the then mayor of Charlottesville, the late Thomas J. Michie, later Judge Michie, who was a strong, strong leader in trying to work out an acceptable pattern of integration. He didn't back away an inch. And I can name some others. But, I mean, he was the primary example. I don't think he became frozen. I think he recognized that it had to be and he started trying his best to get it done. I don't think the political leadership gave up by any means. I think it initially, just like everyone else, was paralyzed as to how are we going to do this. But, it was a paralysis that didn't last for any length of time. Then they realized it had to be done and they started getting at ways to do it. I don't think we were really waiting for the courts to finish. I think we were trying to find ways to do this even though the courts were looking at various ways that were being tried. We were still in a ferment, on how can we get this done. We'll try this; it goes to court, it gets knocked down. We'll try that; it goes to court, it gets knocked down. But we kept trying to find a legally acceptable solution. I think the leadership in that respect was in the school board, frankly. But the political leadership was right with the school board as I saw it. I never saw any dichotomy between the two.
Mr. Gilliam: During the early '60s, the wealthier white families continued their support of Belfield School and St. Anne Schools, a number of Catholic children went to parochial schools. Once the tuition grant program was firmly in place, a large group of middle class whites went to Rock Hill or R. E. Lee School. The schools, at least for a period of time, appeared to have been abandoned to poor whites, whites that were for whatever reason were not going to give up on the public schools and to blacks. When did that transition change? When did large numbers of middle class whites begin to return to the public schools?
Judge Michael: Well, that comment has a premise, with which I'm not sure I agree. Take St. Anne's for instance. St. Anne's is an old-line school. It started back in the early 1900s. And it accrued some few additional students during the integration period, but a few, not many. Belfield came along because there was no kindergarten in the city school system and it was to meet that need. Of course, once we got kindergartens in the city school district there was less of a need for Belfield, but by that time it had established itself as a good kindergarten, elementary school. I don't think there were that many, wealthy or poor, who swung away from the public schools. Oh, there were some of course, it may have been more than five or ten percent. I just do not have a figure. But it wasn't any wholesale abandonment of the public schools. And perhaps the breakdown of the supporters of the public schools would be as you have indicated, but I don't think that was the case. I think there was smaller group that pulled their children out of the public schools and as you say, they started coming back.
Charlottesville Case: Allen vs. School Board
Mr. Gilliam: I would like if we can, to look- to tighten the focus on a few of these court decisions and what I might do if it would be helpful Judge would be to give sort of a brief- I'll give a brief summary so that we both know that we are talking about the same case and then if you want to expand on it, and say what your reaction was as a member of the school board and then as special counsel to the school board. In 1956, about a year after the second Brown decision the "all deliberate speed" Brown decision, the implementing decision, Doris Marie Allen filed suit against the Charlottesville School Board, which made its way to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by December of '56. And in that decision, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Charlottesville School Board has refused to agree to abandon the practice of segregation and they have it made it plain that they intended possibly to continue it. That decision was handed down in December of 1956. What was the background to Doris Marie Allen's beef with the School Board? How did that litigation progress? And why did the Fourth Circuit come down as hard as they did on the School Board in '56?
Judge Michael: I can't answer that question, because I simply don't remember what took place to put Doris Allen into a plaintiff's position. Of course, the comments of the Fourth Circuit are much stronger than I suspect whoever the District Court Judge was - was that John Paul, it must have been.
Mr. Gilliam: John Paul would have been the first one to-
Judge Michael: Yeah. My guess was that his comments were much gentler than that. But that's what the Court of Appeals thought, that's what it said and whether it's right or wrong that's on the record. I don't agree that we were committed absolutely never to integrate, well hell, I was there, I would know. I guess that was, that would have been, oh who would have been the Chief Justice at then, Simon Sobeloff?
Mr. Gilliam: Oh, Soper.
Judge Michael: Soper, I guess. No, No. It used to be the great court, Parker, Soper and Dobie. I don't think that was the court that did that and the next Chief was Simon Sobeloff, as I remember, I think he succeeded John Parker. But little what I know of it, I do not agree in any sense, that the Board, School Board or the City had concluded we absolutely will resist to the death, that was not the case. Now, I sound like a Pollyanna, and I don't want to be, but I'm trying to put my mind back in the posture it was back when all of this was going on. I don't recall what the Doris Allen Case was about, frankly. I wasn't involved in it really. And I think a charitable way of looking at it is that the Court of Appeals used hyperbole in its language. They won't be very happy with my saying that, but it's so.
Mr. Gilliam: I think they were probably trying to send a signal.
Judge Michael: Oh yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: Because that decision came out- well, it was published in December. It was argued in the spring. Intervening was the special session of the General Assembly which passed Massive Resistance.
Judge Michael: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: I think what they were trying to do was send a signal, but I'm just-
Judge Michael: Well, they sent a pretty strong one.
Byrd Machine Reaction
Mr. Gilliam: In 1956, when the General Assembly passed the package of Massive Resistance laws, it has always struck me as strange that the Byrd machine which deferred on most matters to local action, local decisions, put in this language that said that the Brown case required uniformity of action throughout the state and therefore placed under state control any school system that tried to integrate. Do you have any recollection of how people reacted to this apparent 180 degree shift on the part of the Byrd machine moving from local action to state mandated control of school systems?
Judge Michael: Well, my own recollection of the effect, is that there was a feeling that it was something that had to be done if Massive Resistance was to work at all. And that because it had to be done there wasn't much you could say about it except well, so be it. And there are many reasons underlying that drive towards Massive Resistance that have never been fully explicated in my judgment. But there were a lot of factors underneath that reflected a good deal more than simply opposition to integration. I think I've mentioned to you one conversation that I had, long after this was all over with Senator Byrd Sr. at some meeting here at the University and I sat with him. He and I had known one other for a long time. I liked him, and I guess he liked me, at least he liked to talk to me anyhow. After I was able to go up that blasted mountain of his out there without loosing my wind, he thought, well, hell, I guess he's tough enough to go up that, to be talked to, Old Rag, and I've been up that mountain twice, on the Fourth of July, but anyway, not the same Fourth. Anyway, he brought up the question of Massive Resistance, and he said what did you think about that? Well, I said, you want a frank answer? He said well of course. I said I thought it was doomed from the day it started. He said, well, a whole lot of people felt that way, didn't they? I said, yes I think they did. He said, well, there were reasons for it. He spelled out one that stuck with me ever since. He said this Commonwealth needed time to adjust to Brown against Board of Education. And Massive Resistance gave them time to do it. Now that is his justification for it, or partial justification. I don't know any more about his thinking than that. But it struck me as I reflected on it that maybe this was one of the threads that fed into the decision to go the Massive Resistance route.
Mr. Gilliam: There were some people who were avowedly racist during that period. George Wallace, James J. Kilpatrick, who have since then simply said "I was wrong."
Judge Michael: Kilpo in particular.
Mr. Gilliam: But Wallace. At the later stages of his life.
Judge Michael: Yeah. Yeah.
Pace of Change
Mr. Gilliam: And I guess I've always liked people who could say that I held that view 30 years ago, or 50 years ago, or yesterday and I've thought about and I was wrong, I've changed. What was your sense as somebody who was really active in public matters during the '60s about how the climate was changing? Did you feel a change going in people's thinking during the '60s and there after? And what drove that change if there was in fact a change? Was it Christian charity, or a feeling that the court's going to make us do this? How would you attribute that change?
Judge Michael: Well it's like so many other of these things there are a whole series of factors that led to the change. One of them, I think, was a growing recognition beginning in the mid-60s that this was just wrong, that the whole idea of separate but equal just wouldn't work and that segregation was just a wrong concept. That was not prevalent in the '50s, for instance, we didn't pay attention to it. Nobody thought of it as bad or good or anything, that's the way it is. By the mid-60s there was a pervasive feeling that we just were wrong in this. Now nobody stood up and yelled and screamed, except maybe Kilpatrick, much later. But the feeling was there. It's wrong now lets see if we can fix it. That was one aspect of it. Another aspect was, in my judgment at least, a sense that if we can get this done we'll be a better off social unit. Now let's see if it doesn't work that way. Both questions - both threads had all the ifs in the world around them. But, you accept the uncertainties and plot a course and go ahead. And I think that's what led more to the change in feeling, the development of a feeling that integration was the way to go. I don't think there ever had been any strong feeling that what we had before was wrong. It's just the way things were. People didn't talk about it. In the '40s for instance, who ever talked about desegregation? It just wasn't a subject. So, I can't say that it was a complete reversal, because I don't think that people had the firm conviction in the '40s, early '50s, that what we had was wrong. Then it began to percolate through that this wasn't right. And by the '60s you saw that feeling burgeoning. I wish I could give you a clearer answer than that but I can't.
Mr. Gilliam: One thing Judge that interests me, about your particular career, is that in the early '70s, let me back up. In the '60s it was probably the beginning of the ascendancy of the view by people that the federal courts should solve problems. And in the '70s, Nixon through the revenue sharing initiatives that he started tried to return power to states, to have a larger share of the budget to appropriate. And at that point you were becoming not only active but powerful in state politics.
Judge Michael: I doubt that.
Federal State Relations
Mr. Gilliam: As the shift to the rise of federal courts, act as problem-solvers, be it racial, environmental, all these others where the courts got active, you were on the federal court. You seemed to be at the apex of a lot of the centers of power as they shifted. What are your observations on this shifting locus of power, the way our federal system has changed from the '50s to the '60s to the '70s to the '80s?
Judge Michael: Well, that's worthy about four or five hours of discussion. Essentially, I am very much opposed to what I have seen happen over these decades to the federal system, particularly as to the courts. It is not the fault of courts, it is a political failing. When Congress adopts an education for the handicapped act, they adopt a statute that essentially says you need to educate the handicaps, you got to mainstream them, as goals. They don't spell out any way to do it. They turn to the federal judiciary and say now you boys fill this in. You boys write the rules for it. And that's what we have to do. After all it's an act of Congress and as a judge you've got to follow it. The net result has been to put a tremendous strain, and I mean a tremendous strain, on the federal judiciary to solve social issues. Issues that are political in nature and should be solved politically. But they're not. Part of it is the fact that the political establishment does not respond as quickly as proponents of change want it to respond. And that brings up another great subject. And that is the political establishment does not respond as quickly as people want it, some people want it, because not all people want it to respond that way. The whole political process is one of gradual, gradual education. If you start forcing things when the electorate are not been properly educated, then you get this business about the imperial judiciary. But I often felt, that if those people who come charging in to federal court would spend their time charging into the General Assembly, or the Congress and persuading them to do what should be done as a political matter, would solve a lot of these problems.
Mr. Gilliam: Why don't they?
Judge Michael: Because, the politician knows that the general electorate is not ready for that particular step. And until the electorate is ready for it, the politician isn't, the office holder isn't. Once the office holder perceives that they're ready, than by golly he's gonna vote for it.
The Charlottesville Allen Case
Mr. Gilliam: In 1959, the Allen case came back to the Fourth Circuit, and the Fourth Circuit noted that on January 26, 1959 the School Board, and you were a school board member, had made a decision to comply with the court orders. And basically, the Fourth Circuit said that these were good faith steps on the part of the Charlottesville School Board and they were willing to provide more time. And basically, the Court at that point said that we will sit back and take a look at what Charlottesville does. What had Charlottesville done in 1959 to provide that ray of hope to the Fourth Circuit?
Judge Michael: I'm not sure I know. If I could remember the Allen case I would be better off, but I simply can't remember.
Mr. Gilliam: I think that Allen was one of the thirteen who applied for a transfer into the white school from Jefferson School and-
Judge Michael: That would be likely to be the case.
Mr. Gilliam: Eugene Williams was the real person litigating. I mean, he was the person who got the group of claimants to get there. My understanding was in early 1959, the School Board said we will - I think that was the time when the School Board said we will set up these rooms. We will let the Superintendent administer tests to the students to see - to make sure they can perform. And I think that the Fourth Circuit at that point, in 1959, said academic performance is an acceptable criteria for judging whether or not - in other words they were recognizing, just as you said, that will be students who progress differently. And in 1961, the case came back because the School Board had denied every application for transfer, not a single one. And at that point the Court said that the application of this policy was unconstitutional, because there has not been a single person who has been admitted. Do you remember why the Superintendent did not find a single of these petitioning students academically qualified for transfer?
Judge Michael: I do not - I don't recall it at all.
Mr. Gilliam: Did any of those come before the full School Board? Or was it all handled on the administrative side?
Judge Michael: The administrator, as far as I can recall, he reported to the school board but I think the decision - who was it, Fendall Ellis? Or was is Hugh Selfridge? The Superintendent then. It was either Hugh Selfridge or Fendall Ellis. And I don't know what standards they applied. But after that initial opinion, in Brown - the Allen case it was pretty much obvious everybody in sight that we had to do something. And we tried this system. It didn't work. Whether because of some shortcoming in the tests administered, or whatever. It just didn't work.
Mr. Gilliam: What the Fourth Circuit said in that 1961 decision was the school authorities are applying the plan directly contrary to its expressed provision. It seemed that the plan was all right but the way they were applying it was deficient.
Judge Michael: Well that goes back a little bit to what I was saying earlier about the zone schools. The error with the zone schools was the way the zones were drawn. And here you had zones that were drawn that were improper and they brought forward students who wanted to apply to integrate. And they just had another hurdle to jump and that was in the Superintendent's office. And for whatever reason the Superintendent found that they didn't jump that hurdle. And I can see exactly why the Fourth Circuit feel as it did with that third Allen opinion. They were wrong.
Mr. Gilliam: The final statement of the Fourth Circuit came in December of 1962, after there was an all day hearing. The Fourth Circuit said at that time that the purpose and effect of the Charlottesville School Board's plan was to retard integration and held the entire Charlottesville plan clearly invalid. And then following that, the Board went back and did a plan that did not include the testing component. And matters seemed to press in an orderly fashion after that.
Judge Michael: Well, obviously if eleven applied and not a single one was admitted. It seems to me a pretty clear proof that the plan wasn't working to accomplish its result, which was beginning integration. It simply wasn't working. Whether it was not working because of some maligned decision we're going to fight this to the death, which I doubt, or wasn't working because of some improper testing mechanism, which probably is the case. Whatever the reason, it simply wasn't working. And the Court of Appeals apparently reasoned from that that if it wasn't working, it wasn't accomplishing the constitutional goal. Ergo it is unconstitutional, and that makes sense.
Mr. Gilliam: When you ran for the Senate in the democratic primary-
Judge Michael: In 1967.
Mr. Gilliam: In 1967. One of your opponents was viewed, probably fairly, as a hard core opponent of any form of integration.
Judge Michael: Jim Dulaney? I didn't feel that.
Mr. Gilliam: You were viewed as the moderate candidate.
Judge Michael: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: And I've never forgotten the very effective photograph, which was used on your campaign brochure showed you walking up the steps of Lane High School. It had lot of action in it. You were carrying a briefcase, which showed you were a lawyer.
Judge Michael: Still do. [Laughter]. I remember that.
Mr. Gilliam: It was a great picture. I don't know if Herby Jones set that up, or-
Judge Michael: John Huntley did it.
Mr. Gilliam: It tied you, in the public mind, to the successful integration of Lane.
Judge Michael: It might have I don't know.
1960s and 1967 State Senate Campaign
Mr. Gilliam: Can you reflect on that campaign and everything that had gone on before it. Why did you want to be tied to the school system? Why did you want to have that identification?
Judge Michael: Primarily because that was one of my strongest interests in this world. Was and is education. Whether it's a private school or a public school system, they both needed improvement. And anything I can do, that I think would be an improvement, I'm going to try to do. I had no compunctions at all about being tied to the school systems. I never felt, incidently, that Jim Dulaney was any hard-core segregationist. I know Jim, hell, we were neighbors on Rugby Road for years, and I knew him well. And I never felt that at all. I think he was the same sort of pragmatic let's go work this thing through position that most people were in. But, certainly I never had any notion that he was a hard-core segregationist. That would have been a much more vigorous campaign if I had thought that. But, it just wasn't his nature. That's all there is to that. He was a very reasonable, not accommodating, but reasonable person. But the business, of being tied to education didn't bother me a bit. Because that was one of my strongest interests then and now.
Mr. Gilliam: I think that was a good- politically that was the right place to be. Obviously.
Judge Michael: Well, it was certainly an issue that people responded to, vigorously. Fortunately, they responded to the proposals which I espoused. Fortunately, for me, I don't know about for the Commonwealth. But for me it worked.
Mr. Gilliam: Do you think that as the political climate on the racial matters changed during the '60s, that the leaders such as you were able to provide a more effective voice for change?
Judge Michael: Not really. I'm reminded so much of the black leader from down in Southeast Virginia who appeared before the Senate Finance Committee one time and he was bitterly opposed to - the Senate Finance? One of the committees. I was on the committee, and it was concerning redistricting. And he was complaining that the district which was proposed for his area - well he made two funny comments. One was, that he said if you go with that district, all you were gonna have in that district is blacks and crocodiles. It's down there in the Great Swamp. And Senator Wyllie said, Well so and so, can't you lead your people out to where they'd accept something like this? He was objecting that nobody in the district - in his area wanted this district. The black leader said Senator, sometime you have to look back behind you and see if your people are coming behind you. He said, well they ain't coming behind me. [Laughter] That's about the way I'd answer your question. You have the ability to, in a position like being on senate education and public health, you have a position in which you can espouse change, leadership, but you've got to look behind you to see whether people are coming along with you. That doesn't mean you don't do it. You do. And in the sense that you have, what President Theodore Roosevelt called a bully pull pin, you can use it for change. Ought to suggest change and if it's a good change they'll come around behind you and if it isn't, when you look back and they're not back there.
Mr. Gilliam: Who was the black leaders Charlottesville in the '50s and '60s who were effective, in terms of being able to build bridges and get political compromises and get something done?
Judge Michael: Probably, the strongest one was the late Mr. Randolph White. For whom I had, and have the highest admiration. He was the voice of the middle grouping of blacks in Charlottesville. And he was very balanced and very careful in the way he expressed positions. I think he probably was the strongest force for leadership in those days. There were others. The Bells were. Ray Bell who is still living, was one of my favorite people in all the world. But he was a leader. But again, he was like Mr. White. He was not didactic; he was not gung-ho, one way or the other. He wanted to see it work its way out. Those two I think of.
Mr. Gilliam: Ray Bell was the first black to be appointed to the school board. His appointment came really after the crisis was over.
Judge Michael: No, not really. It came beyond the middle of the crises but well before it was over. In my judgment. There still was all the litigation going on.
Mr. Gilliam: What was his contribution?
Judge Michael: A balance. A very vocal, very eloquent exponent of the black view. But a balanced one too. He made a real contribution to that school board. He brought that black perspective in a balanced, harmonious way.
Mr. Gilliam: Speculation can be dangerous.
Judge Michael: Yeah.
Mr. Gilliam: But if there have been a Ray Bell, or another articulate black voice on the school board in the 1950s, might Charlottesville have taken a little different road or at least traveled at a little different pace?
Pace of Change
Judge Michael: It probably would have traveled at a faster pace. It depends on who the individual was. If you had brought to the school board some rabble-rousing, screaming partisan, it would have been almost a disaster. But if you got a balanced, reasoned, level approach, then I think it would have speeded up the process. I really think that.
Mr. Gilliam: Of the people on the other side who were just adamantly opposed to anything. Who do you think was the most effective?
Judge Michael: I really can't answer that. There were a group - there were several people who, they weren't rabble-rousers. I don't mean that. They were firmly and honestly convinced that segregation - that integration was a bad thing. Mr. Homer Ritchie, the late Mr. Homer Ritchie, not senior but junior, was one of them. But he had a number of other shortcomings too. The Nazi and all that business, if he was one, I don't know. Everybody said he was, but I doubt it. But certainly he was conservative to the nth degree. He was one. I can't think of others. I really can't. Actually, after twelve, eighteen months or so, maybe twenty-four months, after Brown versus Board of Education, you didn't hear too many people screaming about it. It began to die down. Now there had been plenty of it in the six months following Brown, but it then it begun to simmer down. And that's when it started to turn towards a sensible resolution.
Mr. Gilliam: You mentioned the School Board's gradual approach as being one reason why we didn't experience any ugly episodes here compared to some other areas. Others have commented that the independent schools provided a safety valve. That they provided an out for some of the real hard-core opponents of integration to go to. Can you tell me a little about the safety valve effect and how it was viewed at that time?
Judge Michael: Well I'm sure that some people were motivated to send their children there to escape integration. But again, the people who are so absolute in their opposition were relatively few in number. And if you added all of their children together you still are not going to support a strong independent school system. So, I don't really think that as a safety valve, it was more of a minor thing. I just don't think that they had that much effect. And partially because, as I say, a whole lot of people went to those independent schools not because of any strong implacable resistance to integration, but because they saw the school as a substitute for what they viewed as a potential disaster in the public school system. And they didn't want their children's education interrupted. They had seen the potential with Lane and Venable, they didn't want their children to miss a year and this was a way to avoid that. And I don't think those people were motivated at all by any implacable resistance to integration, they were motivated primarily to keep their children in school. Now, if that's a safety valve well then it was a safety valve.
Judge Michael: I don't want to sound like, like I said, a Pollyanna. It was not all sweetness and light in that period from Brown on into the early '60s, far from it. But it was strong feeling basically on how do we solve this problem. We know it's here, now how are we going to work our way through it. Part of the reason we did not experience the violence and the uproar of some other communities, in my judgment, is because we have a pretty strongly, pretty highly educated citizenry. Part of it is the influence of the university up there. Because the university produces leaders in public opinion. And while we had certainly those in the university community who were violently opposed to integration, quite a few of them. We had those that were violently in support of integration and they were more numerous, but they were reasonable. And I think they had an influence on the social grouping in Charlottesville. That led that social group to say, well look, let's be reasonable about this. And it's that reasonable feature, I think, that kept us from any of the violence, the demonstrations and the sit-ins and all that business that you saw in Arkansas, Alabama, other places like that. As I said, it was not all sweetness and light. Believe me. But it was not an effort to try to solve something by violence and I credit this community for that. I think it did a superb job in difficult circumstances.
Mr. Gilliam: From what I have been able to determine there were only two cross-burnings in Charlottesville.
Judge Michael: I knew of one and I think that was attended by about four people. Something like that. And the other one I'm told, I did hear of another one, the other one the thing didn't catch fire. It didn't amount to much.

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