Desegregation and Massive Resistance in Virginia

Lesson 3: Massive Resistance in Virginia

Time Estimated: 1 days



Students will:

  1. Understand that Harry F. Byrd, Sr. led a Massive Resistance movement against the integration of public schools in Virginia.
  2. Recognize that all Virginia’s public schools were integrated, and opened, as a result of the failure of Massive Resistance.







  1. Hook: Write the words “segregation,” “desegregation,” “integration” and “Brown v. Board of Education” on the board. Play a vocabulary game to refresh the students’ minds about the content. Say: “I am thinking of a word that means keeping African Americans and whites separated. Which word am I describing?” Continue this until students have demonstrated a conceptual understanding of the words in context.
  2. Have students share their predictions (homework from Lesson 2) of reactions to the Brown decision. Show pictures from Remember of people picketing for and against integration.
  3. Bring the class back together and introduce Harry F. Byrd’s statement from 1954. Each student should have their own copy of the document and the teacher should have an overhead transparency. This is a challenging document for students, but work through the statement orally in conjunction with the “Making Sense of Documents” (note taking worksheet). Summarize Byrd’s reasoning for being against school integration.
  4. Write the phrase “Massive Resistance” on the board. Brainstorm synonyms for the words so students connect with the phrase before reading about it in context. Assign a reading that describes Virginia’s massive resistance to the Brown decision (the last three paragraphs on page 377 in the textbook Virginia).
  5. After the reading, have students define Massive Resistance. Write the definition on the board.
  6. Quickly review with students events from Virginia’s early history, such as its tobacco economy which relied on slave labor, and the Civil War. Ask students how this history influenced Virginia attitudes and its response to the Brown decision.
  7. Show the picture of the closed school in Prince Edward County. Ask students if this school was allowed to stay closed forever.
  8. Show the power point presentation on "Massive Resistance in Virginia” to reinforce their understanding, and to insure students recognize that the courts made Virginia reopen and integrate ALL public schools. If students are struggling to understand the transition from Massive Resistance to integration use information from to guide the discussion.
  9. Assignment: Ask students to write a paragraph summarizing the strategies used by African Americans that finally led to the successful integration of the schools in Virginia .




Students work with partners. The challenging text of Byrd’s statement are discussed orally so students can access it regardless of reading levels, or teachers can select one or two paragraphs to analyze. For visual learners, pictures from should help students understand the concept.

As an extension activity, introduce students to the story of Barbara Jones, an eleventh grader who led students at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, in a strike protesting educational conditions. This courageous act led to the involvement of the NAACP, and became a precursor to one of the cases (Davis v. Prince Edward County) before the Supreme Court that ultimately resulted in the Brown decision. To engage students, go to for documents and photos.