An 8-foot-by-57 foot commemorative wall honoring the Norfolk 17’s role in desegregating Norfolk’s Public Schools six decades ago is now on display in downtown Norfolk.
On hand for the unveiling on April 27 were Mayor Kenneth C. Alexander, city council members, artists, dignitaries, community persons and the remaining members or family representatives of the Norfolk 17, some who traveled to Norfolk for the occasion. Also on hand were persons who belonged to “The Lost Class of 1959” as a result of the school closures that prevented them also from attending the schools.
The public artwork is an 8-foot-by-57-foot wall and bears the name “The End of Massive Resistance”. It was created by Shane Albritton and Norman Lee of RE:site and is located at 114 W. Charlotte St.
The sculpture is composed of brick and glass in a graded transformation that suggests school segregation barriers breaking down.
A historic photographic timeline of events and text includes “Seventeen Ways,” by local poet Tim Seibles.
Sunlight penetrating the glass will symbolize the triumph of social justice and the opaque bricks suggest the ongoing work of creating equitable public schools in the city.
In September 1958, six all-white middle and high schools in Norfolk were ordered by Virginia’s Governor to close rather than integrate as part of a policy called “Massive Resistance.”
In January 1959, the federal court overturned the state’s closure of the six schools.
On Feb. 2, 1959, despite the tension in the city, the Norfolk 17 were admitted to the re-opened formerly all-white schools, officially desegregating Norfolk’s schools.
The Norfolk 17 suffered many hardships for the cause while many white students also locked out of the schools never got to complete their education and became known as the “Lost Class of 1959.”
Norfolk 17 members attending the ceremony were Alvarez Gonsuland, Edward Jordan, Lotita Portis Paige, Geraldine Talley Hobby, Dr. Patricia Turner, Betty Jean Reed, and Carole Wellington. The family of the late Louis Cousins travelled from Texas to participate in the unveiling.
Following the unveiling, a luncheon was held at the Murray Center.