"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP

W. E. B. Du Bois was the first black recipient of a history degree from Harvard University. In The Souls of Black Folks, published in 1903, he argued for "manly" and "ceaseless agitation and insistent demand for equality." He demanded a curriculum of liberation not subordination, which is how he described the Hampton/Tuskegee approach. He was reacting against "accommodation," not just in the field of education, but throughout society, which had become more thoroughly segregated as a result of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court decision that sanctioned the principle of "separate but equal" facilities for black and whites.

W. E. B. Du BoisDu Bois became director of publicity and research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. The legal arm of the NAACP led the campaign to end Jim Crow segregation altogether, but its first target would be inequality in education. It helped win the admission of a black student to the University of Maryland Law School because that state did not have such an institution for blacks. Virginia and other southern states immediately adopted a policy of giving scholarships to black students to attend professional and graduate schools outside the state. That approach was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 1938, and Richmond editor Virginius Dabney said the decision "severely jolted" the South's educational system.

In October 1938 the NAACP filed suit over the fact that black teachers in Norfolk were paid less than their white counterparts. In Alston v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, a federal court ruled that this discrimination was based on race alone and thus violated the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. The decision was met with delays, evasions, adoption of subjective criteria for evaluating teachers, and other methods of resistance, so that black teachers went from being paid one-half of white salaries to two-thirds, but not to full equality until 1952.

Willcox Lake, Petersburg Enter Fullscreen More information
Willcox Lake, Petersburg
The beauty of Willcox Lake near Petersburg was off-limits to African Americans. The Reverend Samuel Robinson recalled, "You'd come by and see the swimming area and the picnic tables with all the food, but you could just look, and then you'd have to keep going." Governor John Battle warned in 1951 that Virginia might close its state park system rather than accept integration, and a 1953 petition to integrate the swimming pool at Willcox Lake resulted in its being closed, never to reopen. (Library of Virginia)
Bookmobile, Grayson County, 1954 Enter Fullscreen More information
Bookmobile, Grayson County, 1954
The Wythe-Grayson Regional Library bookmobile, like other county services, was made available on a segregated basis. Here, during Children's Book Week in October 1954, Grayson County African American students take their turn visiting the bookmobile. (Library of Virginia)
Virginia State Library bookmobile Enter Fullscreen More information
Virginia State Library bookmobile
This bookmobile was provided by the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). Whites used the bookmobile on different days than did blacks, although the driver was black. (Library of Virginia)
Chase City All-Stars Enter Fullscreen More information
Chase City All-Stars
The Chase City All-Stars was an all-black baseball team in the 1930s and 1940s. Major League Baseball was all white until 1947, and in the South baseball was segregated nearly everywhere. Note the numerous black businesses that supported the team. (VHS accession number: 1996.142)
Willcox Lake, Petersburg
Willcox Lake, Petersburg
Bookmobile, Grayson County, 1954
Bookmobile, Grayson County, 1954
Virginia State Library bookmobile
Virginia State Library bookmobile
Chase City All-Stars
Chase City All-Stars
Go to next chapter - Beginnings of Black Education