Date of Award

Fall 2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

John Weber

Committee Member

Brett Bebber

Committee Member

Elizabeth Zanoni


This thesis examines how Norfolk, Virginia maintained residential segregation between the years 1914, when the city passed its first segregation ordinance, and 1959, when it received the All-America City Award for its massive slum clearance projects. By focusing on federal government initiatives in Norfolk, it shows that Norfolk’s leaders used the federal government’s assistance to map, analyze, and remove the city’s African American slums. Ultimately, it highlights the central role the federal government played in perpetuating residential segregation in Norfolk and how it opened a space for Norfolk’s leaders to act on their prejudice.

This thesis demonstrates that in the 1910s and 1920s, Norfolk’s leaders used residential segregation ordinances, restrictive covenants, and white terror to divide the city by race. Then in the 1930s and 1940s, federal government initiatives, such as “redlining” and segregating defense housing projects, validated Norfolk’s discriminatory housing practices and emboldened Norfolk’s leaders to continue to segregate the city. Finally, it shows that in the 1950s, the federal government funded projects in Norfolk that cleared African American slums, demolished mixed-race neighborhoods, and created buffer zones that preserved residential and school segregation.

Notable sources include the Lawrence M. Cox personal papers at Old Dominion University, historical surveys and maps from Charles K. Agle’s analysis of Norfolk in 1949, a 1940 map of Norfolk’s neighborhoods by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), and numerous newspaper articles from the Norfolk Journal and Guide, Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch, and the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Results of this research demonstrate that the federal government played a significant role in segregating Norfolk’s neighborhoods and helped create the racially homogenous neighborhoods that exist in Norfolk today.


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