Virginia was determined not to be like Little Rock. In 1957, after a showdown with Arkansas state officials, President Eisenhower ordered units of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to protect students desegregating Central High School. Virginia state officials wanted none of the shouting mobs, federal government intervention, or media attention.
Instead, in 1956, the Virginia General Assembly had empowered the governor to close any schools under court order to desegregate. This statute was the linchpin of Virginia’s program of Massive Resistance, which sought to prevent the implementation of the Brown decision. Citizens groups, such as the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, pressured state politicians to take a hard line. Virginia’s congressmen called for defiance in Washington, while newspaper editors bolstered the resistance.
The NAACP, however, was intent on fulfilling Brown’s mandate. Massive Resistance culminated in the fall of 1958, when Governor J. Lindsay Almond closed schools in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County. Those schools remained closed until January 1959, when both federal and state courts declared the 1956 laws unconstitutional. Statewide Massive Resistance was dead, but the General Assembly adopted tuition grant programs and “freedom of choice” plans that succeeded in delay-ing widespread desegregation for almost a decade.