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The Hon. James W. Benton, judge on the Court of Appeals of Virginia from 1985 to 2007, remembers his teacher Alene Black Hicks, who taught science at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk. Black was the plaintiff in the first teacher salary equalization lawsuit filed in Norfolk, in 1939. Black’s teaching contract was not renewed for the 1940-1941 school year, but she was later reinstated. Benton remembers she encouraged students not only to pursue their own success but also to fight segregation. As a student, Benton took part in sit-in demonstrations against segregation in downtown Norfolk. As a young lawyer in the 1970s, he worked for the NAACP on continuing Norfolk school desegregation litigation.
As counsel for the NAACP, Senator Henry Marsh litigated 55 school desegregation cases in Virginia the 1960s and 1970s. In this clip, he reflects on his experiences facing U.S. District Court Judge Walter E. Hoffman repeatedly in a case that wasn’t settled for 19 years.
Courtesy Norfolk Portsmouth Bar Foundation
In a 2009 panel discussion moderated by author and journalist Juan Williams, Chief Justice Leroy R. Hassell, Sr., discusses the Supreme Court of Virginia ruling in Harrison v. Day (1959). The court ruled that state laws ordering schools to close their doors rather than integrate violated the state constitution.
Hassell was four years old when Virginia Governor Lindsay Almond ordered schools closed in Norfolk, Charlottesville, and Warren County, but he had older siblings in the Norfolk schools. As a justice on the court, Hassell recalled, he had conversations with Harrison, then a retired justice, about his role in massive resistance. He said Harrison believed his legacy, and the legacy of Governor Almond, during the time, was the “avoidance of violence, and, from his perspective, that was a great achievement.”
Attorney William T. Coleman, one of the lead strategists and co-author of the brief for the NAACP for Brown vs. Board of Education, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1948 and 1949. Coleman was the first African American attorney to clerk for the court. In this video clip, he remembers Justice Frankfurter inviting him to lunch at the Mayflower Hotel one weekend when the court cafeteria was closed, only to discover it did not serve African Americans. The incident, Frankfurter, Coleman later learned, influenced the court’s 1953 ruling, District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc., which struck down Jim Crow in the District.
Justice George M. Cochran served in the legislature before he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1969. Cochran was part of a group of younger legislators, sometimes called the “young Turks,” veterans of World War II, who tried to moderate Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s. In this video interview, recorded in 2007, Cochran describes the difficulty of challenging the Byrd machine in the General Assembly before Governor Almond decided to abandon massive resistance in 1959 in favor of a plan that allowed limited desegregation.
Hon. James W. Benton, interviewed by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, March 12, 2009, at the Supreme Court Building in Richmond. Supreme Court of Virginia/Virginia State Law Library Oral History Project.
Senator Henry L. Marsh, III, interviewed by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, September 8 and October 8, 2008, in Richmond. Supreme Court of Virginia/Virginia State Law Library Oral History Project.
The triumph of the rule of law over massive resistance: a community celebration, broadcast by Norfolk’s Neighborhood Network, www.norfolk.gov/tv48. Community forum, January 28, 2009; sponsored by the Norfolk Portsmouth Bar Association.
William T. Coleman, Jr., interviewed by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, January 30, 2009, O’Melveny & Myers law firm in Washington, DC. Supreme Court of Virginia/Virginia State Law Library Oral History Project.
Hon. George M. Cochran, interviewed by Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander, March 30, 2007, in Staunton. Supreme Court of Virginia/Virginia State Law Library Oral History Project.