Goals of the Organization
In the autumn of 1955, the Defenders successfully petitioned Governor Stanley to call the General Assembly into special session on November 30. The Defenders wanted a statewide referendum to determine whether Section 141 of the state constitution should be amended to implement tuition vouchers to allow public funds to go to private schools. (Section 141 stated: "No appropriation of public funds shall be made to any school or institution of learning not owned or exclusively controlled by the State.") On January 9, 1956, voters backed the Defenders-bred initiative by a vote of 304,154 to 146,164. Additionally, on August 27, 1956, the General Assembly enacted even tougher Massive Resistance laws, many of which had first been proposed by the Defenders. The most extreme of these ordered the governor to close all schools under an order to integrate and to cut off all state funding to any school forced to open as an integrated institution.
By the time public schools were closed in the autumn of 1958, it seemed evident that newly elected governor J. Lindsay Almond and Albertis S. Harrison, his attorney general, although publicly committed to Massive Resistance, were privately looking for a way out of the crisis. They realized that the school closings would not stand legal challenges and thus encouraged test cases to settle matters. So under the guise of supporting the legality of the school closings, together they implemented the lawsuits James v. Almond and Harrison v. Day in both the federal and state courts, respectively.
The Organization's Decline
The Defenders' last stand culminated in the highly dramatic yet minimally effective event known as the Bill of Rights Crusade, which coincided with the reconvening of the General Assembly on March 31, 1959. The Defenders gathered five thousand angry Virginians to hear Defender spokesman Edward J. Silverman rile up the faithful to challenge members of the General Assembly and recommit to the fight against integration. By this time, however, most Virginians were weary and simply wanted to move away from the conflagration that had engulfed the commonwealth for nearly five years.
In the spring of 1959, the Defenders implemented a last-ditch strategy that focused on replacing moderate Democrats in the General Assembly with resister Democrats in the party primary to be held on July 14. The Defenders defeated a few moderate incumbents in the House of Delegates; however, of sixteen moderate senators targeted by the organization, only two were replaced, and both by other moderates. The results of the July Democratic primary were a complete repudiation of the Defenders and their agenda. Although the Defenders continued to function into the 1960s, the group never recovered its previous status. In 1963, Defenders president Robert B. Crawford resigned and was replaced by W. I. McKendree, of Norfolk. Four years later, on July 17, 1967, the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties officially dissolved as an organization.
October 1954 - The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, a grassroots political organization dedicated to preserving strict racial segregation in Virginia's public schools, is created in Petersburg. Robert B. Crawford, of Farmville, is the first president.
June 8, 1955 - The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties issues its 7,500-word Plan for Virginia to confront the mandate for school desegregation set forth in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decisions of May 17, 1954, and May 31, 1955.
September 1955 - The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties has twenty-eight chapters and 12,000 members throughout Virginia.
November 1955 - Virginia state senator Garland Gray introduces the Gray Plan, which recommends two proposals from the Defenders of State Sovereignty's Plan for Virginia. One proposes tuition vouchers for segregated private schools, and the other recommends legislation to maintain segregated schools and the withdrawal of funds from any integrated schools.
March 31, 1959 - The Defenders of State Sovereignty, in a last-ditch effort known as the Bill of Rights Crusade, gathers 5,000 angry Virginians to hear Defender spokesman Edward J. Silverman rile up the faithful to challenge members of the General Assembly and recommit to the fight against integration.
July 17, 1967 - The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties officially dissolves as an organization.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Neff, D. P. The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties. (2013, October 23). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Defenders_of_State_Sovereignty_and_Individual_Liberties.
- MLA Citation:
Neff, David Pembroke. "The Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: September 17, 2009 | Last modified: October 23, 2013
Contributed by David Pembroke Neff, a professor of American history at Tidewater Community College and Old Dominion University. He received his doctorate from George Mason University in 2005.