Massive Resistance was a policy adopted in 1956 by Virginia’s state government to block the desegregation of public schools mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1954 ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Advocated by U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd Sr., a conservative Democrat and former governor who coined the term, Massive Resistance reflected the racial views and fears of Byrd’s power base in Southside Virginia as well as the senator’s reflexive disdain for federal government intrusion into state affairs. When schools were shut down in Front Royal in Warren County , Charlottesville , and Norfolk to prevent desegregation, the courts stepped in and overturned the policy. In the end, Massive Resistance added more bitterness to race relations already strained by the resentments engendered by the caste system and delayed large-scale desegregation of Virginia’s public schools for more than a decade. Meanwhile, Virginia’s defiance served as an example for the states of the Lower South, and the legal vestiges of Massive Resistance lasted until early in the 1970s.
A. Linwood Holton was a governor of Virginia (1970–1974) and the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction (1865–1877). Hailing from Big Stone Gap in southwest Virginia, Holton was among the “Mountain and Valley” Republicans who began to gain statewide support in the 1950s in opposition to the Byrd Organization and in support of public school desegregation. Holton won a narrow race for governor in 1969 with a coalition that included a substantial number of African American and white working-class voters. As governor, he declared an end to Massive Resistance, the state’s anti–desegregation policy, announcing, “The era of defiance is behind us.” In 1970, he was photographed escorting his daughter Tayloe into a nearly all-black high school in Richmond. In addition, Holton reorganized the executive branch, worked to clean Virginia’s polluted waters, and helped create a unified Ports Authority in Hampton Roads. He was not able to overcome increasing factionalism among state Republicans, however, and the party lost a series of statewide elections in the 1970s. A bold and decisive progressive on matters of race relations, he did much to break the Democrats’ one-party dominance of Virginia’s political life. He was less successful at imprinting his own moderate conservative philosophy on the Virginia Republican Party.
Leon S. Dure created the concept of freedom of choice of association, a philosophy embraced by segregationists after Massive Resistance—the state policies designed to oppose the desegregation of public schools—faded in 1959. Born in Macon, Georgia, Dure served as managing editor of the Macon Telegraph, White House correspondent for the Washington Post, managing editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and executive news editor of the Twin City Sentinel in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He retired in 1949 and returned to Virginia, where he lived on a farm in Albemarle County. During the desegregation crisis that followed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Dure publicized freedom of choice of association as a way to avoid the large-scale integration of public schools. Students could choose which school to attend, with white students receiving state-tuition grants to attend segregated private schools. While not entirely new, the idea was particularly palatable to suburban white voters. Dure’s strategy persisted until the 1960s, when it received two key legal defeats in Griffin v. State Board of Education (1964) and Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968). Dure died in Florida in 1993.
Collins Denny, the son of the Methodist bishop Collins Denny, served as a key lawyer for Virginia’s segregationists. Aligned with the dominant faction of the Democratic Party led by Harry F. Byrd Sr., Denny entered the state’s conservative political establishment in the 1930s as an assistant attorney general of Virginia. In 1948 he co-wrote a resolution with Governor William M. Tuck that condemned President Harry S. Truman’s civil rights policies and supported the so-called Dixiecrats in that year’s presidential election. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), he helped create the staunchly segregationist Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties and became its legal counsel. Prince Edward County, which closed its public schools rather than desegregate, also hired Denny when it was challenged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He represented the school boards of two other counties when their segregationist policies were challenged. He died in 1964 after several years of poor health.
Ruth LaCountess Harvey Wood Charity was a civil rights activist and defense attorney in Danville. Nonviolent demonstrations emerging from the Danville Movement in June 1963 resulted in a violent response from authorities and hundreds of arrests. Charity and a few local attorneys defended protesters through complicated state and federal appeals from 1964 until 1973. Danville’s voters elected her to the city council in 1970, becoming the first African American woman to sit on the body. From 1972 to 1980, she was one of four Virginia members of the Democratic National Committee. Charity lost her law license in 1984 when she was convicted of embezzling from two clients’ estates. In 1985 she moved to Alexandria and worked for the Fairfax Human Rights Commission. Charity died in Greenbelt, Maryland, in 1996.
Albert V. Bryan was a federal district court and circuit court of appeals judge during a crucial period in the fight over public school desegregation. After serving as the commonwealth’s attorney in Alexandria from 1928 until 1947, he was appointed a federal judge of the Eastern District of Virginia. Although he supported segregation Bryan stuck closely to legal precedents established by the U.S. Supreme Court. He ruled in favor of continued school segregation in 1952. After Brown v. Board of Education reversed his ruling in 1954, however, Bryan began following the new precedent, though in a manner that slowed implementation. His subsequent decisions on Massive Resistance delayed, but did not stop, desegregation of Virginia schools. In 1961 he was appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Adhering again to Supreme Court precedent, in 1969 Bryan struck down state tuition grants to students attending segregated private schools. He retired from the federal bench in 1971 and died in 1984.
Gardner L. Boothe was a Democratic Party leader in Alexandria for more than fifty years. Born in that city in 1872, he studied law at the University of Virginia in 1893 and opened a law practice. Boothe became Alexandria’s city attorney in 1897 and five years later was elected a member of the Democratic Party’s State Central Committee. That same year he was selected chairman of the Eighth District Committee, a position he held until 1952. Boothe aligned himself with the state’s conservative establishment, backing stalwarts Harry F. Byrd Sr. and Howard W. Smith, including in their opposition to civil rights legislation. A member of the state’s old guard, he presided over Alexandria’s First National Bank for forty-six years and took an active role in local business, civic, and religious affairs. He died in Alexandria in 1964.
Armistead L. Boothe was a Democratic politician who challenged the party’s powerful, conservative political machine run by Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. Boothe entered the General Assembly in 1948 as an independent thinker within what was known as the Byrd Organization. He sabotaged an attempt to keep Harry S. Truman off the ballot for the 1948 presidential election and the next year predicted that public school segregation would soon be ruled illegal. In 1950 he proposed integrating common carriers, and after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation in public schools was indeed unconstitutional, he issued his own plan for limited public school desegregation despite his personal opposition to integration. Boothe opposed Byrd’s plan of Massive Resistance, or a refusal to desegregate, as a threat to strong public schools. Despite being an influential member of the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia for more than a decade, Boothe remained an opposition figure within his own party. He lost Democratic primaries for lieutenant governor in 1961 and for the U.S. Senate in 1966.
Leon M. Bazile was a member of the House of Delegates (1935–1941) and judge of the Fifteenth Circuit (1941–1965) most widely known for his rulings in Loving v. Virginia, the interracial marriage case ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967. Born in Hanover County, Bazile earned a law degree from the University of Richmond and served in the U.S. Army during World War I (1914–1918). In the General Assembly and then on the bench, Bazile’s eccentric and independent personality sometimes rubbed others the wrong way, but he was popular among his white constituents for his defense of white supremacy. In the Loving case Bazile strictly enforced Virginia’s interracial marriage ban, finding it a just and moral law. His notorious rulings in the marriage case were the last in a long career. Less well known is his nearly five-decade role as a significant shaper and defender of Virginia’s segregation laws. Bazile was involved in virtually every legal race issue during those years—the racial integrity and segregation laws of the 1920s, proposals for repatriation of African Americans in the 1930s, the public school equalization cases in the 1940s, defense of Virginia’s Massive Resistance in the 1950s, prosecution of the Danville civil rights demonstrators in 1963, and, finally, his last ruling in the Loving case in 1965. He retired in 1965 and died two years later, just before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his Loving opinion.
Archibald M. Aiken was a lawyer and judge of the Danville Corporation Court who opposed desegregation. During the Danville civil rights protests of 1963 Aiken gained national notoriety after confronting the demonstrators and issuing an injunction to ban most forms of public protest in the city. He convened a special grand jury, which indicted three protest leaders for conspiring to incite “the colored population of the State to acts of violence and war against the white population.” Controversial, stubborn, and outspoken, Aiken continued to fight against integration throughout the 1960s. He died of a heart attack in 1971.