Spotlight: Massive Resistance

Published:May 11, 2009 by Brendan Wolfe

Massive Resistance represented something like Virginia’s last stand against desegregation. State leaders actually closed public schools rather than desegregate them as the U.S. Supreme Court, beginning with its Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, had required. How to justify such a move?

By the time the General Assembly met in January 1956, key Byrd Organization figures were advocating a coordinated effort to block any desegregation anywhere in Virginia. Leaders such as Congressman William Munford Tuck argued against local option; only a unified resistance, they held, could prevent the “mixing of the races.” When the Arlington County School Board members, headed by Elizabeth Pfohl Campbell, announced a plan of phased desegregation, the General Assembly reacted punitively, depriving them of their special elective status. In a series of lengthy editorials, James Jackson Kilpatrick, editor of the Richmond News Leader, expounded on the idea, drawn from antebellum southern ideology, that the state could “interpose” its power to stop implementation of federal court rulings. Acting on this belief, the General Assembly adopted a resolution of interposition. Late in February, with segregationist momentum building, Byrd made a public call for a campaign of “massive resistance” against Brown.

The emphasis is mine. Some things just never go out of style, like antebellum southern ideology. As we’ve noted in these pages of late (here and then here), that same A.S.I. (read: states’ rights) is being resurrected yet again, this time to protest taxes. The blogger Hilzoy makes an interesting point about a recent resolution passed by the Georgia State Senate that would allow the state to nullify federal laws it didn’t like: the Georgians were lifting from our very own Thomas Jefferson.

Here’s what TJ wrote (in response to the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition Acts), and here’s what the Georgia senators wrote.


No Comments on “Spotlight: Massive Resistance”

  1. Sue P.

    If you’re interested in seeing Jefferson’s first two drafts of this document (before Nov. 1798), along with his numerous changes, deletions, and additions, consult the recently published digital edition of Jefferson. Published by the University of Virginia Press Rotunda, you can do full text searching, etc. It is available by subscription. If you’re at the University of Virginia you should be able to get access to it.

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