Historical Marker: Warren County High School and Massive Resistance


There is a School in Front Royal, Virginia, that looks quite unassuming but has a rather Interesting background

Warren County High School, a Public Works Administrative project, was constructed in 1940. In 1958, the local NAACP chapter, lead by James W. Kilby, won a federal suit against the Warren County School Board to admit African Americans for the first time, in response, Gov. James Lindsay Almond Jr. ordered it closed in Sept. 1958, the first school in Virginia shut down under the state’s Massive Resistance strategy. Following the 1959 Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that Massive Resistance was unconstitutional, a U.S. Circuit Court ordered it reopened. On 18 Feb. 1959, 23 African American students walked up this hill and integrated the school.

History of the school

Before Warren County High School there was Royal’s first public school, the high
school portion was added in 1906. However, these were both inadequate for the
needs of the local population. A whole new building was created for the grade
schoolers and high schools in 1940s, it was called the Front Royal High School.
The name was later renamed to Warren County High School, to represent the
larger portion of the population that would be entering the school. The school
would later create a robust and nearly undefeated football team. It would have
multiple undefeated seasons in the 1950s but that would abruptly end.

Civil Rights Issues

In the US a major Civil rights accomplishment and been made with the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which Unanimously ruled 9-0 that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional, even if they were “separate but equal”. This was a Major victory for the civil rights movement. The courts declared in a that separate but equal was inherently not equal. The Court declared that states desegregate with quote “with all deliberate speed”. This however gave no plan on how or technically when they were to do it. Many southern states already had a dislike for the civil rights movement, reacted negatively to the ruling. Many of them going under the banner of massive resistance, a stratagem made by Harry F. Byrd Sr. the then current U.S. Senator of Virginia. The strategy was to put up a united front and resist desegregation, through legal means and policies one such policies was to just shut down the school in Protest. However, a later ruling reaffirmed the supreme courts decision and outright stated that stat legislators and officials had no ability to stop the decision.

Trouble Back in Front royal

As the ruling was made schools across the United States were desegregating many places were resisting. One such location was Warren County High School, which was the only school left in the county that had not desegregated or began to integrate black students. The then current governor of Virginia J. Lindsay Almond had tried multiple things to stop or slow down the integration in his state. He eventually shutdown Warren County High School in protest over the decision, however officially stating they were not prepared to integrate yet. This also effectively stopped the teams’ continuous victories due to dropping out.

First Primary Source
In an article written on Thursday, September 18, 1958, writes about the sending a message for them to stop the public-school integration issue. Virginia Governor Almond states quote “Ours is not an attitude of defiance. No federal agency can compel us to operate a public school system. They may force us into the potion where we must Abdon public education. That is not defiance”. While this was going on students at Warren County High School were being homeschooled or taught in different locations like churches or other public gathering places. Some even moved to places with no minorities so as to not have to integrate. The article later goes on to show a comment by the then current attorney general Rogers, after he conferred with the president at Newport. He stated and encouraged parent of Warren County High School must put pressure on state officials and legislators to reopen the schools and integrated. The governor’s response stated that the job was to hold the constitution, the governor moves the goal post and says if there were an amendment to the constitution then he would have no choice to do it. However even as the governor refuses any means of cooperation, there is growing indication that a citizen movement may demand the school to be opened.
The local weekly paper had urged citizens, students and parents, to push for the reopening of the Warren County High School, which was still closed by order of the governor. The editorial publisher warren sentinel said “We would be less than human if we did not send our schools closure while others remain open. Why should this community through its youth pay the useless price for the unyielding position of the southside Virginia”? He framed it as if the schools stayed closed then it would be the youth who are the most damaged. Even the education committee of the chamber of commerce said the governor should be urged “to formulate imminently some plan to reopen Warren County High School”

Second Primary Source
The secondary comes from a newspaper based in Virginia called the Farmville herald, posted on Friday June 26, 1959. This is written nearly a whole year later, in the newsletter the Virginia governor almond has finally given up or surrendered as the newspaper puts it. Unlike the first newsletter which tried to remain impartial maybe even for integration, this one is completely against it and pro segregation, it states that it believes the majority of white people are not ready to give up the fight. It calls the court tyrannical and questions why governor almond gave up, it calls the supreme court’s ruling illegal and unconstitutional. After the decision to integrate schools, many parents had enrolled their children in private segregation academies. It states that 21 black students were admitted to Warren County High School by themselves, and no white students were there when the school opened. The whole article questions where the governors anger went and why did he suddenly go for integration hinting somethings wrong. It says that the courts are undermining freedom of choice and that they know the people will fight for liberty justice and their right as individuals.

Despite the assuredness the second source gave that the people would not give in even if the governor did surrender, white students eventually returned to the halls of Warren County High School. By the latter half of the 1960s there were finally enough student for sporting events to resume. The school remains open today and still has a robust student number.

Who is the Audience for this?
For the first article is from a newspaper company in Washington DC, the newspaper remains surprising impartial with-it langue and tone, if anything I would say it supports integration. Perhaps this 8is just my bias speaking but I expected racist undertones and hatred in this. However, it accuses the governor who is anti intergrati0on and pro segregation of sedition. It basically pushes for people to protest against the governor and his decisions. It was only after thinking did, I realize why this paper was pro integration it was a DC paper, from a newspaper company who was already for civil rights.
The second primary source came from a local Virginia paper and was everything I expected it was vehemently against integration, it repeatedly questions why the governor gave up the “good” fight. It tries to frame the people stopping integration as fighting for liberty. It frames the supreme court tyrannical totalitarian monsters who want to take your freedom of choice away from the people. It says the people against segregation only want to protect their children and the culture. It says that the supreme court’s decision was illegal and constitution and calls on all white people to remain steady in their “fight for it is one of the principles of liberty, of justice and our rights as citizens of Virginia? This paper is obviously for anyone who is anti-integration and pro segregation.

Why is this important?
This Historical marker is incredibly important for various reasons the main one is to dissuade people of the illusion that all southern were racist hicks. It was the people who pushed to have the school reopen and despite the fact that initially no white students entered when it did, many rapidly returned to the school. This school also shows the reluctance people not just in Virginia had against integration. It shows both sides of the story one framed as defending liberty and the freedom of choice against a tyrannical court and another showing the disparities between blacks and white in separate but equal schools’ system. It shows the people thoughts and feelings at the time and while some of them might be for civil rights they might think their children “safer” in a private school. It is an important civil rights momment.




Evening star. [volume], September 18, 1958, Page A-23, Image 23


The Farmville herald., June 26, 1959, Page 5B, Image 13






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.