Friday, January 01, 2016

History and other Information in January 1, 2016

The Civil Rights Movement in Hampton Roads, Virginia has been going on for decades and centuries. By 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision determined that racial segregation in public schools (and public accommodations) was unconstitutional. Yet, Virginia pursued a policy to avoid desegregation that would be the racist Massive Resistance policies. This policy involved the creation of new state laws called the Stanley Plan (that prohibited state funding for integrated public schools, even as some school districts began to contemplate them.). It was a few years after Brown until the policy was tested. Norfolk's private schools had been integrated four years before as the city chose to voluntarily comply with the Brown decision. However, a number of public school divisions (school districts) around the state had been reluctant to do so for fear of losing state funds. In 1958, Federal District Courts in Virginia ordered schools in Arlington, Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Warren County, to desegregate. In the fall of 1958, a handful of public schools in three of these widespread areas opened for the first time on a racially integrated basis. In response, Virginia Governor J. Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered the schools to be closed, including six of the Norfolk Public Schools: Granby High School, Maury High School, Norview High School, Blair Junior High School, Northside Junior High School, and Norview Junior High School. During the 1950’s, the SCLC (or the Southern Christian Leadership Council) had meetings in Norfolk, Virginia. In Norfolk, the state action had the impact of locking ten thousand children out of school, which raised outcry by the public to a high level. As some children attended makeshift schools in churches, etc., the citizens voted whether to reopen the public schools. The ballot made clear that the Commonwealth of Virginia would stop funding integrated schools.

On January 19, 1959, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals declared the state law to be in conflict with Virginia's state constitution. The Court of Appeals ordered all public schools to be funded, whether integrated or not. Governor Almond capitulated about ten days later and asked the sitting General Assembly to rescind several "Massive Resistance" laws. On February 2, 1959, Norfolk's public schools were desegregated when 17 black children entered six previously all-white schools in Norfolk, Virginia. The Norfolk 17 is the name of the 17 black heroes of the school desegregation struggle in Norfolk, Virginia. They were young males and young females. There was a lot of racism back then (and today). They worked with the NAACP to fight for social change. They or the young students tried to gain entrance into the mostly white schools of the city. They attended school at Bute Street Baptist Church during the winter of 1958. On February 2, 1959, the Norfolk 17 became the first African American students to attend the previously all-white schools in the largest school district in the state of Virginia. They were cursed at, spit at, and ostracized. Yet, they had a strong religious faith in God. They graduated and moved forward with their lives. Their names are Andrew Heidelberg, Louis Cousins, Betty Jean Reed, Patricia Godbolt, Johnnie Rouse, Carol Wellington, Reginald Young, Delores Johnson, Alveraze Frederick Gonsouland, Edward Jordan, LaVera Forbes, James Turner Jr., Olivia Driver, Lolita Portis-Jones, Patricia Turner, Claudia Wellington, and Geraldine Talley. Virginian-Pilot editor Lenoir Chambers editorialized against massive resistance, earning the Pulitzer Prize. The fight for civil rights continued. By 1965, only 5 percent of black students in Virginia were attending integrated schools. The Pupil Placement Board refused to create real desegregation in the 1960’s.  "In actuality," writes historian Robert A. Pratt, "race was the only criterion considered; the Pupil Placement Board assigned very few black students to white schools in Virginia while it remained in operation." Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the national NAACP said, "Virginia has the largest and most successful token integration program in the country."

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 denied federal funds to schools determined to be resisting integration. This resulted in a bit more compliance by Virginia schools.  White flight existed when white people moved into mostly white suburbs in the 1960’s and more white students went into private schools. Black people disagreed with oppressive discrimination. CORE was active in Norfolk, VA.  By 1960 only 23% of the eligible black voters were registered. This was primarily because of discrimination in voter registration, initiated since the 1902 Virginia Constitution. The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, abolished the poll tax, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act expanded that number, but the lingering effects of voting restrictions resulted in widespread inequities. SNCC and other groups organized sit-ins in Norfolk and in Hampton Roads in general. They did this in 1961. African Americans arranged sit ins at Norfolk’s Woolworth’s, Portsmouth’s Mid-City Roses, and in other stores. Some protests were peaceful marches. There was violence between racists and the black social activists who wanted real change. Civil rights didn’t just deal with equality involving education and public accommodations. We wanted equality involving jobs, politics, and housing.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Norfolk, Virginia many times. He visited Norfolk for the first time in the summer of 1961. He went to the City Arena (or the Harrison Opera House today) where he led a rally with 2,500 people (which was sponsored by the SCLC). The programs included local clergy and Dr. Milton A. Reid of Petersburg or the President of the Virginia Christian Leadership Conference. His last time he went into Norfolk was in October 1966. He spoke at the New Calvary Baptist Church at the installation ceremonies for Dr. Milton Reid as pastor. He answered questions from reporters and Norfolk State College students at a press conference. Hundreds of people crowded the church and lined Virginia Beach Boulevard, hoping for a glimpse of the civil rights leader. He wanted to go into Norfolk, Suffolk, and other Virginia cities on March 30, 1968 in order for him to promote the Poor People's Campaign. Yet, he went into Memphis during that time to fight for the economic rights of the Memphis sanitation workers.  There was the election of Attorney Joseph A. Jordan, Jr. to Norfolk's City Council. His election made Jordan the first African American in the 20th century to win a seat on the council. He eventually became vice mayor and was, by 1977, appointed as judge on Norfolk's General District Court. Dr. William P. Robinson, a Norfolk State professor, was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1969 also becoming the first African American to win that seat in the 20th century. The first African American to achieve the distinction of being the first in Portsmouth was Dr. James E. Holley, III in 1968. Holley would go on to become Portsmouth's first African American mayor. These elections, as well as the appointments of prominent African Americans to the school board, the city planning commission, heralded the beginnings of changes for African Americans in Norfolk.  These historic developments are great. Yet, the struggle continues. One great civil rights pioneer who recently passed away in 2014 was Andrew Heidelberg. He was one of the Norfolk 17. He was part of Norview High School.

There is a long way to go. I honor and have a great deal of respect for the #YesWeCode programs, etc. helping black youth. We are known for using social media, code, and other forms of computer technology. Diversity problems have plagued Twitter for years. I do believe that during 2016 and beyond, we should build up more of our own institutions that deal with code and technology. If they won't hire, then we should use our grassroots power to establish our own computer related institutions and companies. We respond to injustice by fighting back. We fight back by confronting oppression, setting up our own, demanding change, and helping our own via a sincere motivation. There are many qualified, talent black people who know about computer science and engineering. We shall see what the future of Twitter will be. The status quo is not a solution. It's a hindrance to the goal that we desire. We want not only fair opportunities, workers' rights, and justice. We want the structures of systematic racism and discrimination to end. The problem is not just individual. It is a systemic, structural problem. The system currently must end and be replaced if we are to see a truly fair society.

By Timothy

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