Date of Award

Winter 1991

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services - Urban Education

Committee Director

Maurice R. Berube

Committee Member

Peter Stewart

Committee Member

Charles Smith

Committee Member

Robert Lucking

Committee Member

Donald Myers


This dissertation explores the critical role played by the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot newspaper's editor, Lenoir Chambers, in moderating public opinion during Norfolk, Virginia's, 1958/1959 public-school closing.

In 1958 the nation's attention was focused on Norfolk. In an attempt to stymy judicially mandated integration, Virginia's Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., supported by the powerful political organization of United States senator Harry Flood Byrd, Sr., ordered the city to close its public schools.

Norfolk was a major urban area. Over ten thousand students were displaced by the state action; and four months after the closing, three thousand students were still receiving no education. Massive resistance transformed Norfolk into a civil-rights battleground where massive resisters were pitted against pro-school forces and the courts. In February of 1959, Norfolk's schools were reopened and Virginia's policy of massive resistance was broken. Although the process by which the schools were integrated was far from orderly, the transition was characterized by debate, political maneuvering, and judicial action--not violence.

The Virginian-Pilot served as an important influence in facilitating this peaceful integration. The Pilot, alone among Virginia's major white newspapers, urged compliance with the Supreme Court's mandate in Brown v. Board. Chambers was later awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his four-year editorial campaign opposing massive resistance.

Data for this study was drawn from a series of oral-history interviews with key actors in the school closing (including all of the surviving members of the Pilot's editorial and publishing staffs), a wide variety of personal papers and documents, the Virginian-Pilot's editorials and reportage, and a review of secondary sources.