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Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Collection

Collection ID: MG 92

Scope and Contents

This collection primarily contains material related to the integration of the Norfolk public schools. The papers include correspondence, court cases, school board resolutions, inter-district memorandum, press releases, reports, news clippings and district maps. Subjects covered are the 1958 school closing to prevent integration, integration progress in the 1960s, busing to achieve integration in the 1970s and the end of busing in the mid-1980s. Among the most important historical materials is correspondence between Governor Lindsay Almond and the School Administration, beginning with the letter ordering the closing of six Norfolk schools as mandated by the "Massive Resistance" law. While most of the collection deals with desegregation, it also includes school directories and calendars before and after desegregation. Portions of the Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Collection have been digitized and are available in the Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections.


  • circa 1922-2008, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 12/14/2007



18.40 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

Norfolk, Virginia has twice found itself at the center of attention related to the racial desegregation of its schools. The first was in the late 1950s during a state-wide, governor-led resistance to the integration mandated by the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS ruling. Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. closed the schools scheduled to be integrated for five months until the courts intervened. The second was in 1986 when Norfolk became the first school district in the country to have a federal judicial ruling allowing them to end busing for the purpose of achieving racial balance in schools. On September 19, 1958, U.S. District Judge Walter Hoffman issued an order in continuation of Leola Pearl Beckett v. The School Board of the City of Norfolk which said that Norfolk must immediately begin to integrate its schools. On September 27, 1958, the Norfolk School Board placed 17 African American children into previously all white schools in compliance with the judge's order. Earlier in 1958, the Virginia legislature had granted permission to Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr. to close any white school that had "negroes" which tried to enroll. On September 27, the same day the children were to start at school, the Governor closed the six affected schools in Norfolk and took them under his control. In all, this impacted more than 10,000 white students and the 17 African American students (the Norfolk 17). In the months that followed, students found avenues to education through private schools, relocation, but mostly through highly organized tutoring groups. In February of 1959, the schools reopened with fewer students-by one estimate almost 2500 fewer. During the 1960s and 1970s, southern school districts struggled to implement the court-ordered integration in the face of political and community opposition. Districts faced internal challenges of teachers and administrators who did not want to work with students of another race and in many cases had to force involuntary transfers to maintain court-ordered quotas. As African American students began to apply for transfers to predominantly white schools in Norfolk, the district developed a rigorous evaluation system including an examination of records, health requirements, the academic achievement of the student in comparison to the requested school, residence, physical and moral fitness, mental ability (IQ), social adaptability, and cultural background compared to the requested school. The apparent goal and result of these stringent requirements was to give the appearance of compliance, while maintaining the status quo. As the courts and groups such as the NAACP became frustrated with the road blocks to integration, additional court cases were filed and more court orders were disseminated. As the 1960s closed, Norfolk still had not achieved integration and stronger measures needed to be implemented. The mandatory busing between paired schools in Norfolk, VA began in September of 1971. Within the first weeks of busing, enrollment in the district dropped by 5000 students-within the next two years, an additional 8000 students left the district-mostly white. Four years later, in February of 1975, Judge Mackenzie deemed Norfolk a unitary school district-which meant that it was no longer segregated. As the enrollment of white students continued to drop-termed "white flight"-the School Board became concerned that despite busing, an integrated school district would be impossible to achieve. It examined a multitude of other districts around the country to gain ideas into how best to deal with the challenges. The school board voted in 1983 to end cross-town busing of elementary students, but to continue it for middle and high school. Although they were challenged in the Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk case, their decision was upheld in 1986 when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the lower court decision. In the years that followed, a Community Oversight Committee was established to oversee the equity among schools and resources, but disbanded itself in 1991.

Note written by Jennifer K. Clayton

Language of Materials



This collection dating from 1922-2008, contains correspondence, memorandum, depositions, court orders, recollections, statistical testing data, printed material, artifacts, and maps.The bulk of the collection provides a glimpse into the decisions made by the School Board through court documentation and the public sentiment during the integration process in Norfolk. While most of the collection deals with desegregation, it also includes school directories and calendars before and after desegregation.

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into five series: Series I: Closing of the Norfolk City Schools; Series II: The Path to a Unitary School District; Series III: Norfolk as a Unitary School District; Series IV: Directories and Calendars; and Series V: Oversized Documents.

Custodial History

From 2008 to September 2020, the collection was known as the Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Papers.

Source of Acquisition

Norfolk, Virginia, Public Schools

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A2007-006

Related Materials

Portions of the Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation[url=]Collection[/url]have been digitized and are available in the Old Dominion University Libraries Digital Collections.

Processing Information

The finding aid was completed by Jennifer Clayton in Apirl 2008.

A Guide to the Norfolk Public Schools Desegregation Collection
Jennifer K. Clayton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US