FEBRUARY 24, 1956

Harry Flood Byrd, Sr. Credit: Houchins Photo

U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. coined the term “Massive Resistance” to unite white leaders in Virginia in their campaign to preserve segregation. The policy appealed to white Virginians’ racial views, their fears and their disdain for federal “intrusion” into the “Southern way of life.” 

Virginia passed laws to deny state funds to any integrated school and created tuition grants for students who refused to attend these schools. Other states copied its approach. When courts ordered desegregation in several schools in Charlottesville and Norfolk, Virginia Gov. James Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered those schools closed. When Almond continued that defiance, 29 of the state’s leading businessmen told him in December 1958 that the crisis was adversely affecting Virginia’s economy. Two months later, the governor proposed a measure to repeal the closure laws and permit desegregation. 

On Feb. 2, 1959, 17 Black students in Norfolk and four in Arlington County peacefully enrolled in what had been all-white schools.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.