According to its authors, the book was not designed as a condemnation of the city or its lack of diversity in its public schools today, but to put a historic perspective on why such conditions continue to exist, 58 years after the famous Brown Decision was issued declaring racially segregated schools unconstitutional.
The book is more than a 50 plus-year-old repeat account of events leading up to and culminating with the legal desegregation of the Norfolk schools. It delves into the economic and political factors – both known and unknown at that time – and examines the thinking of the white power structure which sought to protect, maintain, and even to strengthen the status quo.
“Thus far the response to the book has been somewhat muted. We have not heard any reviews on the book yet,” said Dr. Ford. ”But we are hoping that people will be better educated about a very critical period in our history which is still playing itself out today.
“Full compliance with Brown (vs. the Board of Education that declared segregated schools unconstitutional) in Norfolk was short-lived because the power political and economic elite never fully wanted to comply with the Brown Decision.”
Resistance to school desegregation, according to “Elusive Equality”, was tied closely to efforts to deter Black empowerment. The city’s white power elite said it feared integration would cause middle class whites to flee not only the city’s public schools, but to neighborhoods in nearby Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
The continued damning of desegregation made this a reality, the authors declare; indicative of continued segregated neighborhoods, high Black poverty rate, and Black children being racially isolated in the city’s public school classrooms at near the same level as before the Brown decision was handed down in 1954.
Norfolk, in the past 30 years, has experienced a resurgence of its downtown business corridor and housing stock, stirring a mild migration of middle class whites into the city.
But many middle class whites and Blacks still opt not to enroll their children in the city’s public schools because of, the book points out, the Black majority student population and the marginal physical conditions of many of the facilities.
Ford said the book looks at what seemed liked a victory over Jim Crow by the National NAACP and local legal minds when their efforts forced Norfolk to reopen six all-white public schools that had been closed to defy the courts in 1958.
But the victory for the six targetted schools did not end the fight to fully desegregate the remaining schools in Norfolk. The book looks at a second round of political and legal tangles to deter desegregation.
Black lawyers and the NAACP noted that the same factions who had used Massive Resistance to avoid compliance with the Brown Decision, began using “Passive” Resistance as a successful tool to slow desegregation during most of the 1960s and into the 1970s and 80s.
Instead of screening Black students for academic and physical fitness to attend all white schools, “freedom of choice” and “neighborhood schools” became new options.
According to Ford, the book for the first time, gives a more balanced and critical look at an aggressive African American legal and political effort to overcome Jim Crow, desegregate the city’s workplaces, gain economic equality and desegregate the city’s public schools.
The book is available at Prince Books, 109 E. Main Street in downtown Norfolk.