Date of Award

Spring 1991

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Urban Services - Urban Education

Committee Director

Maurice R. Berube

Committee Member

Peter C. Stewart

Committee Member

Ulysses V. Spiva

Committee Member

Robert Lucking

Committee Member

Donald A. Myers


Although a number of scholars have examined the impact that the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision had upon local school policies, there is a paucity of research on what repercussions that decision may have had upon a broad range of other related municipal issues. This historical case study explores the effect that opposition to court ordered school integration had upon the placement of school buildings and urban renewal projects in one Southern city, Norfolk, Virginia, where there was strong reason to believe that the municipal powers of school plant planning, redevelopment, and city planning were deliberately used to forestall court-ordered school integration. Census tract data, capital budget documents, school board minutes, planning papers, and contemporary newspaper accounts were used in combination with interviews with decision-makers, municipal officials, and newspaper reporters to write a history of school desegregation and urban renewal in Norfolk during the period both immediately before and after the Brown decision.

According to the research, the leadership in Norfolk, as well as in other Southern cities, made a concerted effort to plan for the demise of segregation, and that this preparation took place in three phases: an attempt before the Brown decision to make Black school facilities more nearly equal to those of whites, a quiet reassessment period following Brown, in which limited school desegregation seemed possible, and a frantic effort to massively resist by relying upon the urban renewal powers of the city to delay or negate the authority of the federal courts.

Although Norfolk, which before Brown had pockets of Black population spread throughout the city, appeared to use its urban renewal powers to move from segregation de jure to segregation de facto by tearing down mixed race, transition neighborhoods, closing or demolishing affected schools, and carefully dividing the city into single race school zones. In addition, the city shifted to reliance upon tiny "vest pocket" schools and the careful placement of public facilities to create racially distinct school districts. Shortly after the Brown decision, Norfolk launched in several major new and highly speculative redevelopment projects that tore down the homes of close to ten percent of the city's population, including the Black plaintiffs in its school desegregation suit. In spite of these efforts, Norfolk served as the chief battleground upon which the fate of "interposition" and Massive Resistance (to school desegregation) Plan was decided.