The makeup of Charlottesville Public Schools changed on this date in 1959 as “Twelve Negroes, some accompanied by parents, walked quickly into previously all-white schools here this morning for the first time in history. There were no disturbances. White students greeted their arrival with little outward show of interest. One white student leaned out the window and yelled, ‘Here they come’ and a teacher remarked ‘You could hear a pin drop in here.’”
That day brought an end to Charlottesville’s participation in Virginia’s Massive Resistance movement, led by Sen. Harry Flood Byrd in response to Brown v. Board of Education. Earlier, in January of 1958, a federal court ordered the city of Charlottesville to integrate. In defiance of that order, Gov. Lindsay Almond ordered schools in Charlottesville Warren County and the City of Norfolk to close rather than integrate. While lawsuits abounded, parents, local churches, and civic organizations scrambled to assemble schools for their children, many of which were held in private homes. Public schools reopened in February of 1959 however African-American students were still prevented in enrolling in the all-white schools. On Sept. 5, 1959, U.S. District Judge John Paul ordered admission of the 12 students.
In Nov. 2011, historical markers to the “Charlottesville Twelve” were erected a Venable and the former Lane schools, and a panel discussion was held with eight of the original twelve students. During that discussion, John Martin remarked, “Over time, things change…The Country is better for what we did. It was not just education, it was integration. And the integration started with education. Now we’ve integrated everything…We are a much stronger country when we’re using all the brains we have here.”