Projects & Collaborations

of the Commission

Massive Resistance Oral History Project in Collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University

The Massive Resistance Oral History Project (MROHP), a partnership between the MLK Commission and Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of African American Studies, is a significant feature of the Commission's commemoration of public school closings in Virginia. The Project is also supported by the collaboration of the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Committee. The Brown Scholarship Committee was created as a result of Virginia's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision to restore public education to persons deprived of a public education during Massive Resistance. To date, Virginia is the only state which established Massive Resistance policies that has acknowledged and responded in this manner to address a grievous wrong.

A series of statewide meetings and town halls were held to commemorate public school closings in Virginia's history and to facilitate public dialogue concerning the painful history of Massive Resistance, its impact and legacy throughout the Commonwealth and nation, and ways to promote reconciliation and a common vision for the future. Speaking with and engaging citizens across the Commonwealth concerning the public school closings, testimony revealed that many public and other records pertaining to Massive Resistance and school desegregation in Virginia have been lost, are now privately owned, or are otherwise unavailable for preservation and scholarly inquiry. In addition, lingering feelings of deep resentment, bitterness, and hopelessness among many citizens who lived through Massive Resistance, whether or not their schools were closed, were palpable whenever the subject was discussed. Also, it was discovered that school children are not exposed to this aspect of Virginia's history because Massive Resistance is not treated appropriately in history textbooks, and scholars and researchers have limited access to primary and secondary resources due to the loss of records. Therefore, working together, the Commission, University, and Committee are striving to rebuild the public record on Massive Resistance and fill a chasm in Virginia's history by capturing and preserving the oral histories of Massive Resistance survivors and other persons who were integrally involved in and are living with the legacy of Massive Resistance laws and policies. Further, to help remedy this problem, the Commission plans to publish on behalf of the General Assembly a legislative history of Massive Resistance and school desegregation in the Commonwealth to ensure access to and availability of Virginia's historical records to students, librarians, scholars, educators, and researchers for generations to come.

The MROHP represents a singular opportunity to preserve Virginia's history for the benefit of future generations and to facilitate desperately needed healing and racial reconciliation. It also promises to result in at least four benefits—personal healing, reconciliation, restoration of Virginia's school desegregation history, and a body of scholarship based upon primary sources.

In December 2011, in preparation for the oral history project, a team of professionals consisting of representatives of Virginia Commonwealth University and of the Commission traveled to South Africa to study and train in oral history and memory work at the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work of the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. The Sinomlando Centre was established in 1994 after the end of apartheid and charged with the duty to add indigenous oral history, which has been silenced and obliterated under apartheid, to the nation's historical records. The ethical principles of the Sinomlando Centre and its methods for conducting oral history and memory work were incorporated into the training of the Massive Resistance Oral History Project team, staff, and service learning course students who conducted interviews with Massive Resistance survivors.

Phase I of MROHP has been completed. Copies of the transcripts of interviews with survivors who participated in Phase I were presented to them in a ceremony, similar to that held by the Simonlando Centre, on July 27, 2012. Phases II through V of the MROHP are under development.

SJ 181/HJ 380 Commending the Sinomlando Centre for Oral History and Memory Work

Phase 1 Video Interviews

VCU Massive Resistance Oral History Project Phase I from Hassan Pitts on Vimeo.

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Desegregation of Virginia Education Collaboration with Old Dominion University (DOVE)

(Excerpt from the DOVE brochure. Link to full publication below)

Statement of Purpose

A century from now, will desegregation in Virginia be a forgotten story? If we don't do a better job of saving our records, it will be. Currently few of the records of school desegregation in Virginia are publicly available. Old Dominion University Libraries has formed a state wide organization, Desegregation Of Virginia Education (DOVE) Project, in order to identify, locate and preserve records that document Virginia's school desegregation process.

The first step to save our history is to identify and locate relevant records already held in repositories and public institutions throughout Virginia. Thus, DOVE has created regional task forces to find and inventory these records. Task force members, knowledgeable in regional history, will identify individuals and groups who could have records, such as school superintendents, historical societies, teachers, civic leaders, curators of private collections, and civil rights organizations. The results of these surveys are being compiled into a publicly available online catalog at Old Dominion University. The DOVE Project is similar to the presentation of the Virginia Heritage Project, a project that also actively records the histories of the Commonwealth. However, DOVE is wider in its scope to include private records and institutions outside of Virginia, yet narrower in its focus to one topic and era. Our project will provide an invaluable resource for scholars, educators, students, and even community members involved in school desegregation, and it will preserve the records for future generations to come.

The primary purpose of the surveys is to locate and spread knowledge of available material related to school desegregation. Hopefully, the attention brought to the topic will unearth new material suitable for conservation in appropriate repositories. Additional future plans include obtaining funding from granting agencies and developing a teacher's guide to help K-12 teachers use DOVE's material to educate children about the desegregation era in Virginia.

The media attention given to the 50th anniversary of Massive Resistance's school closings has increased public awareness of this important era. While the public is listening, this is the best time to find documentation so that the 100th anniversary is not commemorated with silence.

Desegregation of Virginia Education (DOVE) project Partnership Activities Report (pdf)

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