Here is a part of black history very few people know of. With all that these brave black people suffered and endured to obtain an education in the face of racist odds, no young black person living today should spit on the legacy of the Norfolk 17. No young black person living today has the right to utter the hateful phrase,”Acting white”, in reference to getting an education. For centuries black people were denied an education, and with all that the Norfolk 17 went through, it would be an insult to them for any young person today to tear down access to learning.
The Norfolk 17.
Lest we forget.
 By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated press Writer Sun Jul 6, 6:57 PM ET
NORFOLK, Va. – The “Norfolk 17” were honored Sunday at the church that educated them 50 years ago when six of the city’s all-white public schools closed under Virginia’s defiant response to court-ordered desegregation.
Ten of the 14 surviving members of the Norfolk 17 — who went on to integrate the public schools, enduring isolation and their classmates’ scorn — attended the service at the First Baptist Church, where they were remembered as fearless civil rights pioneers in the segregated South.
“We’re here to celebrate history,” the Rev. Robert G. Murray told the packed congregation. “All God’s children deserve an education.”
The 17 were among thousands of black students denied a place in the classroom during “Massive Resistance,” Virginia’s state-sponsored answer to the Supreme Court‘s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared school segregation unconstitutional.
“There were 17 stories. Each one of us has our own story. My brother died 14 years ago.
His story is lost,” said Patricia Turner, who along with her late brother James Turner Jr. was among the 17.
Virginia’s Massive Resistance cut funds to any school that dared to integrate.
Schools were closed and private academies were created to educate white students who could afford the tuition. The policy primarily affected schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk and Prince Edward County, which continued its own homegrown version of school segregation until 1964.
In Norfolk, three all-white high schools and three junior high schools closed between September 1958 and February 1959 rather than accept black students.
The Norfolk 17 were turned away from those six schools. At First Baptist Church, the 17 said they found loving, attentive and demanding teachers.
In January 1959, state and federal courts declared that the school closings were unconstitutional. The Norfolk schools reopened in Feb. 2, 1959, and the 17 went on to attend the white schools, ending the era of Massive Resistance.
At school, the 17 were met by angry mobs and insults. Many said they were isolated from their white classmates during their high school years. The speakers mentioned Louis Cousins, who was widely depicted in a news photograph sitting alone in the Maury High School auditorium while white classmates were seated many rows away.
Cousins attended Sunday’s celebration but did not speak.
“These people were alone,” said John Charles Thomas, the first black justice on the Virginia Supreme Court and a product of the Norfolk public schools. “Every one of them was alone.”
Thomas recalled the tumultuous era in which the young members of the Norfolk 17 integrated the city schools. The judge who ordered the schools reopened had a cross burned on his lawn, he said, and the civil rights movement was met with violence in many places.
“This was a dangerous time,” Thomas said to nods and amens of the congregation. “Think of the courage that it took for all of them to do what they did.”
Turning to the first two rows of the church, Thomas said, “Norfolk 17, God knows we’re grateful.”
Virginia established Brown v. Board of Education Scholarships for people whose education was disrupted or ended during Massive Resistance. The city of Norfolk plans to conduct events marking the 50th anniversary of the end of Massive Resistance next year.


Patricia Turner stressed the importance of education by recalling how the Norfolk 17 integrated Norfolk schools in 1959.

Like all good teachers do, Patricia Turner starts her story at the beginning: The Massive Resistance and the Norfolk 17.
“Becoming the Norfolk 17 was not an easy job,” she said as more than 100 people crammed into the Norfolk United Methodist Church fellowship hall Sunday for her Heritage Day talk, which marked the end of the church’s Black History Month events.
“We were chosen by God; we were not picked,” Turner said .
Turner stressed the importance of education by recalling how the Norfolk 17 integrated Norfolk’s schools starting in 1959 . As one of the Norfolk 17, she is often asked to tell the story.
With the very first images she painted, her audience fell silent.
On the first day of school, she said, her mother woke her and made her promise to hold her brother’s hand and her head high. With that in mind, they crossed the imaginary line between blacks and whites on Sewells Point Road and continued on to Norview Junior High School in Norfolk .
“I looked so cute in my little white jacket,” she said, her voice wavering. She remember ed how badly she had wanted the waist-length coat. Her parents had saved up for the gift.
“By the time I got home from school that day, that little white jacket wasn’t white anymore,” she said.
Stones, sticks and spit were among the least disgusting things that pelted her. This behavior was allowed against black students, she said, as long as the objects didn’t leave marks.
Her experiences during the desegregation in Norfolk were peppered with white students scattering from nearby seats, teachers using gloves to touch her papers and acknowledgement of her existence coming only during slavery discussions. Turner moved through school with safety in mind, sitting near doors for a quick escape
and sitting in the front row so that if something happened to her, someone was bound to see.
Her mother and God helped her survive the experience, she said. She graduated from Norview High School and earned degrees from Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University . She is now working on a doctorate at the College of William and Mary .
“Our children must realize that education is the key,” she said. “Education is the key to success and until we can prove how smart we are, we are going to go nowhere.”
Sisters Avery and Alana Calhoun reflected as the adults continued to question Turner about her experiences.
“It was sad. Who would think of something like that?” said Avery, 15 , who was bothered by Turner’s memory of the teacher wearing gloves.
“And because of how cruel it was back then,” added Alana, 14 . She was still thinking about people spitting on the Norfolk 17, she said.
With everything that Turner and the others have gone through, Avery said, “I think that you are not supposed to take education for granted.”
Amy Couteé, (757) 222-5216,


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  1. ashley s.

    i love the fact that you all held your ground and went to school no matter what cuz now a days kids dnt even want to be there and i think this story will convince them to do otherwise. 🙂 thanks 4 all the you have done.

  2. ashley s.

    thank you for all that you have done to help young african americans. you have made me want to persue an educational futur 🙂

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