This silent WSB newsfilm clip from May 9, 1961, shows Georgia governor Ernest Vandiver commenting on a federal school desegregation lawsuit recently initiated by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy against the school board of Prince Edward County, Virginia.
The clip is divided into two parts. In the first segment of the clip, Vandiver, standing at a podium, appears to be speaking candidly to the audience. In the second part of the clip, Vandiver is filmed from the side while seated at a desk. Holding a lit cigarette, he speaks to a reporter who is off-camera.
School desegregation lawsuits were first introduced in Virginia in 1951 in Davis, et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, a suit that was later included in the 1954 United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in public education. In response, Virginia legislators passed a series of laws designed to prevent school integration. Dubbed "massive resistance" by Virginia senator Harry F. Byrd, the laws eliminated funding and shut down integrated schools while they simultaneously furnished white families with tuition grants to educate their children in private schools. In the fall of 1959, Prince Edward county's schools closed rather than integrate.
In April of 1961, with Prince Edward County public schools still closed, the United States Department of Justice filed a motion in Federal District Court to prevent Virginia from providing financial support to any public school in the state until the schools were reopened on a desegregated basis. Officials in Georgia maintained an interest in the outcome of the Justice Department case against Prince Edward County because the city of Atlanta had also been ordered by federal courts to integrate their schools that fall. Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, on May 6, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech at the University of Georgia School of Law, where he condemned the situation in Prince Edward County, informed his audience that the Department of Justice would act on those who circumvented court orders, and praised the recent desegregation of the University of Georgia.
As a gubernatorial candidate, Ernest Vandiver vowed to maintain segregation in Georgia public schools, though victorious desegregation lawsuits such as Holmes v. University of Georgia prevented him from doing so. The Holmes v. University of Georgia decision in January of 1961 resulted not only in the integration of the University of Georgia, but also necessitated an early repeal of the state's massive resistance legislation. Although Georgia had followed Virginia's precedent in establishing anti-desegregation legislation, the prompt ruling in Holmes v. University of Georgia had unexpectedly shifted Georgia's desegregation battle from the Atlanta public schools to the state's land grant university. Georgia's rural legislators who controlled the General Assembly could easily find support to close Atlanta public schools in order to uphold segregation, but the prospect of shutting down the state's flagship university for the same cause proved to be unpopular. Governor Vandiver continued to express opposition to integration, but worked with Atlanta mayor William Hartsfield to ensure order when it became Atlanta's turn to integrate its public schools later that same year. In the fall of 1961, Atlanta public schools peacefully complied with court-ordered desegregation. Back in Prince Edward County, Virginia, public schools remained closed until the fall of 1964.
Title supplied by cataloger.
The Civil Rights Digital Library received support from a National Leadership Grant for Libraries awarded to the University of Georgia by the Institute of Museum and Library Services for digital conversion and description of the WSB-TV Newsfilm Collection.
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Cite as: WSB-TV newsfilm clip of Governor Ernest Vandiver commenting on the actions of Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the Prince Edward County school case, Atlanta, Georgia, 1961 May 9, WSB-TV newsfilm collection, reel 0915, 00:20/46, Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Ga, as presented in the Digital Library of Georgia.