In 1954, the political organization of U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., controlled Virginia politics. Senator Byrd promoted the "Southern Manifesto" opposing integrated schools, which was signed in 1956 by more than one hundred southern officeholders. On February 25, 1956, he called for what became known as Massive Resistance. This was a group of laws, passed in 1958, intended to prevent integration of the schools. Pupil Placement Boards were created with the power to assign specific students to particular schools. Tuition grants were to be provided to students who opposed integrated schools. The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that agreed to integrate.
In September 1958 several schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk were about to integrate under court under. They were seized and closed, but the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the school-closing law. The General Assembly promptly repealed the compulsory school attendance law, making the operating of public schools a matter of local choice. But a simultaneous federal court verdict against the school-closing law based on the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could not be evaded. Speaking to the General Assembly a few weeks later, Governor J. Lindsay Almond conceded defeat. Beginning on February 2, 1959, a few courageous black students integrated the schools that had been closed. Still, hardly any African American students in Virginia attended integrated schools.