Massive Resistance in Virginia--Timeline
(University of Virginia: "The Ground Beneath Our Feet (Episodes in Virginia History): Massive Resistance")

This resource (timeline) introduces one of the most turbulent yet creative periods in Virginia's history. Though segregation of black people from white people in educational and social spheres had been the rule of Southern society since the 1890s, the institution came under increasing criticism after World War II. Americans who had witnessed the brutal racism of Hitler's Nazi regime began to question racial injustice at home. The NAACP's long legal battles against racial discrimination began to resonate with a wider audience.
In Virginia, shortly before the Supreme Court struck down the practice of racial segregation in education, certain African American high school students of Prince Edward County took a bold and creative stand for better schools by going out on strike to protest the state's practice of endowing them with inferior schools. Aided by counsel from the NAACP Legal Defense team, these students galvanized their community into demanding not just a new high school building as originally planned, but an end to segregated schools. The county responded by building a new segregated high school. Ironically, the new Moton High School was completed only one year before segregated education was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
In the wake of the high court's Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954), as Virginia's state and county leaders searched for the political and legal means to resist desegregation, they shut down many of the public schools and created "private academies" for white students. This policy became known as "massive resistance," and was in place in many areas of the state for much of the latter half of the 1950s. The resource given here is the introductory page to a project website devoted to the history of Massive Resistance, and is useful for introducing students to the main events and chronology of these significant years in Virginia/U.S. History.
Teaching Tips

"Do Now" Suggestions

  1. In the multimedia section, there are 2 interview clips. The first is with Edwilda Allen Isaac (the student leader in the Prince Edward County protest) and the second is with her mother. The teacher can show the clips to the students and ask them to focus on the following questions for a discussion:

    • How does Mrs. Isaac describe the differences between white and African-American schools?
    • What did Mrs. Isaac hope to gain with the protest?
    • Why do you think young people, like Mrs. Isaac, organized such protests instead of older people, like her mother?
  2. The teacher can choose several of the pictures from the images section of the website, which contain clues as to why the segregated schools were not equal in Virginia. The teacher can print out the pictures or create a slideshow to project onto a screen and ask the students to discuss possible grievances. The teacher can also ask students to think about additional grievances, which may not be represented in the pictures. Particularly relevant pictures include: "Students in Classroom in Tar Paper Shack," "Prince Edward County Shack School," and "'Separate But Equal' 1950s Rural Virginia School."

  3. The teacher can choose several of the pictures from the images section of the website, which show how Virginians organized a "massive resistance" movement against desegregation following the Brown v. Board of Education rulings. The teacher can then ask students to create 2 different captions for the pictures. The first caption should be from the perspective of a contemporary Virginian newspaper, while the second caption should be from the perspective of a current history book. The activity is designed to help students think about people's changing attitudes about race in the past half century.

Suggestions for Using this Resource as Part of a Lesson

  1. All of the Massive Resistance resources can be used by students to write an essay or create a PowerPoint presentation answering the following questions:

    Why did Brown v. Board of Education occur in 1954? What about the early 1950s made America ready for this change? And conversely, what about the early 1950s made the Supreme Court's decision so controversial and challenging to implement?

  2. Because there are so many resources on the Massive Resistance site, the teacher can require students to use a certain number of resources, depending on their reading level. For example, the teacher might ask students to reference 1-2 photographs, 2 interviews, 2 newspaper articles, and an excerpt from the Dorothy Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County case.