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David P. Neff Papers

Collection ID: MG 101

Scope and Contents

The collection contains documents used by Dr. Neff during the development of his master’s thesis, “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.” Included in the collection are copies of newspaper articles, group literature, group achievements, organizational charts, correspondence, information on the group’s activities, organizational newsletters along with bound copies of newspaper articles from severeal newspapers. The series also contains personal correspondence generated by Neff during his research.


  • circa 1954-1990, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 10/03/2008



1.80 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

Dr. David Pembroke Neff, Ph.D., is a native of Norfolk, Virginia and the grandson of Clarence Amos Neff, a prominent Norfolk architect who was instrumental in developing Norfolk’s urban architecture during the first half of the twentieth century.  Dr. Neff has been a professor of History at Tidewater Community College, Virginia Beach Campus since 1994 as well as an adjunct professor of History at Old Dominion University in Norfolk and Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.  Dr. Neff earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida in 1984 and two Master of Arts degrees; one in United States History from Old Dominion University in 1992, and another in Liberal Studies, with emphasis in Literature and History from Georgetown University in 1998.  Dr. Neff earned a doctoral degree in 2004 in Higher Education (History Education) from George Mason University. While a graduate student in history at Old Dominion University, Dr. Neff submitted his master’s thesis titled “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.”  The subject documents the rise and eventual fall of a Virginia segregationist organization, The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, or the Defenders as they were commonly known.  The group formed in October 1954 in Petersburg, Virginia in reaction to the landmark Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in which the court ruled that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional.  This ruling, which also mandated the desegregation of all public schools throughout the United States, was met with widespread disbelief, anger, and opposition throughout the southern United States; particularly in the states that had comprised the Confederacy during the United States Civil War nearly a century earlier.  The founding membership consisted primarily of prominent business and civic leaders who adamantly opposed the court’s decision on the belief the ruling infringed upon the rights of the states and threatened the continued existence of a southern culture established upon the principle of racial separation. The Defenders formed with the full intention of resisting the court’s ruling in order to conserve Virginia’s racially segregated society.  While the Defenders pursued the same objective as other segregationist organizations active in the Deep South such as the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizen’s Councils, the Defenders chose to distance themselves from these organizations by rejecting the violence and lawlessness these groups encouraged.  The Defenders believed that violence was an unacceptable solution that would only draw unfavorable attention to their efforts and was therefore counterproductive to their end goal of preserving the racially segregated status quo.  Instead, the Defenders adopted a policy that advocated what they believed was a reasoned defense of segregation by trying to influence the judicial, legislative, and electoral process.  Defender groups quickly formed across Virginia which by September 1955 had grown to twenty-eight chapters with nearly 12,000 active members statewide.  The Defenders aggressively, and in some instances quite successfully, lobbied the Virginia legislature to adopt measures sympathetic to their cause.  The Defenders played a vital role towards influencing anti-desegregation legislation passed by the Virginia legislature in 1956 known as the “Stanley Plan” or more commonly, the “Massive Resistance” laws.  This legislation required the governor to close and withhold funding from any school system in Virginia that was either forced to desegregate by federal court order or who chose to do so voluntarily. Massive Resistance was put to the test in the fall of 1958 when federal courts ordered the desegregation of public schools in Warren and Arlington counties, as well as in the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk.  In response, Governor J. Lindsay Almond immediately ordered schools in these localities closed; an action, which affected thousands of public school students, both black and white.  The Defenders publicly endorsed the governor’s actions and worked closely with numerous other statewide organizations to oppose school desegregation.  On January 19, 1959, both the Federal District Court in Norfolk and the Virginia State Court of Appeals each issued rulings stating the Massive Resistance laws violated the United States and Virginia Constitution, and ordered the immediate reopening of the affected schools.  In response, the Defenders continued their defiant rhetoric opposing integration, but the end of Massive Resistance signaled the beginning of the end for the Defenders.  After the January 1959 court ruling, support for the organization soon began to erode as Virginians simply grew tired of the controversy that had engulfed the state for nearly five years.  The Defenders tried one last effort to reestablish their influence during the 1959 statewide general election by trying to replace moderate Democrats in the Virginia legislature with Defender endorsed candidates; an effort, which failed to achieve its desired outcome.  By the mid-1960s, active membership in the Defenders had dwindled to just a few thousand and was rapidly sinking with each passing year, so much that by 1967 the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties was officially dissolved.

Note written by Sonia Yaco

Language of Materials



The collection contains documents used by Dr. Neff during the development of his master’s thesis, “The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, 1954-1967.”

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into two series: Series I: Defender Activities; and Series II: Neff Research Materials.

Source of Acquisition

Dr. David P. Neff

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A2008-23

A Guide to the David P. Neff Papers
Sonia Yaco
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