Two movements make the 1950s in Norfolk, Virginia so remarkable: the voracious local attack upon urban blight, and the ferocious state resistance to desegregation in its public schools.
One of the first cities in the United States to initiate large-scale postwar redevelopment efforts, Norfolk was also a chief battleground in Virginia for court-ordered school desegregation. Norfolk native Forrest R. “Hap” White shows how Norfolk, and other Southern cities, used the powers of redevelopment and city planning to not only reshape the aging Southern port city for the twentieth century, but also to resist and delay social progress, and specifically the public school desegregation ordered by the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education.
There are heroes, too. Forces for progress, including many private citizens both black and white, the “Norfolk 17,” the N.A.A.C.P., the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, the federal courts system, and the U.S. Navy, fought to eventually reverse the Massive Resistance school closings that were Virginia’s response to Brown.