Bringing it all back home: segregation-era local TV news

Virginia Center for Digital History Research: Television News of the Civil Rights Era. This new archive at the University of Virginia provides film and primary documents from two local Virginia television stations between 1950 and 1970. The archive gives you a chance to explore one of the Old Dominion’s least proud moments in recent memory, the so-called “Massive Resistance” campaign that sought to fight desegregation and generally resist federal civil rights initiatives.

Particularly shameful to me: a 1958 clip showing then-Superintendent of Newport News’s public schools R.O. Nelson explaining that having three applications from black students to enter a segregated school meant that the city didn’t have to take more direct action to end segregation, and that it planned to continue with business as usual. (There is to this day an elementary school named after Superintendent Nelson in Newport News. In my day, we nicknamed it “B.O. Nelson,” not knowing the deeper reasons we should have had for feeling antipathy to it.) Also: the glossary entry for Newport News noting its role in resisting salary equity for black teachers.

As I learned in 1993 researching the archives of the Daily Press for a paper in Julian Bond’s civil rights class, there’s nothing like finding out what little bits of nastiness were happening in your own home town to really bring home the magnitude of injustice.

(In the interests of completeness, here’s that paper.)