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Elusive Equality

Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk's Public Schools
Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813932880 · $49.50 · Aug 2012
BUY Ebook · 320 pp. · ISBN 9780813932897 · $49.50 · Aug 2012

In Elusive Equality, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford place Norfolk, Virginia, at the center of the South's school desegregation debates, tracing the crucial role that Norfolk’s African Americans played in efforts to equalize and integrate the city’s schools. The authors relate how local activists participated in the historic teacher-pay-parity cases of the 1930s and 1940s, how they fought against the school closures and "Massive Resistance" of the 1950s, and how they challenged continuing patterns of discrimination by insisting on crosstown busing in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite the advances made by local activists, however, Littlejohn and Ford argue that the vaunted "urban advantage" supposedly now enjoyed by Norfolk’s public schools is not easy to reconcile with the city’s continuing gaps and disparities in relation to race and class.

In analyzing the history of struggles over school integration in Norfolk, the authors scrutinize the stories told by participants, including premature declarations of victory that laud particular achievements while ignoring the larger context in which they take place. Their research confirms that Norfolk was a harbinger of national trends in educational policy and civil rights.

Drawing on recently released archival materials, oral interviews, and the rich newspaper coverage in the Journal and Guide, Virginian-Pilot, and Ledger-Dispatch, Littlejohn and Ford present a comprehensive, multidimensional, and unsentimental analysis of the century-long effort to gain educational equality. A historical study with contemporary implications, their book offers a balanced view based on a thorough, sober look at where Norfolk’s school district has been and where it is going.


An exemplary reexamination of the long struggle over race and education, not only in twentieth-century Virginia but indeed in all of the United States.

Peter Wallenstein, Virginia Tech, author of Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia (Virginia)

Elusive Equality, a carefully crafted, exhaustively researched, and eye-opening study of desegregation and resegregation in the public schools of Norfolk, Virginia, represents local history at its best. Ranging across seven decades of struggle and resistance, courage and cowardice, success and failure, Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford manage to capture the complexities and ambiguities of the local scene without losing sight of the larger racial, urban, economic, and political issues that complicated and often hindered the pursuit of educational equality and social justice in modern America.

Raymond Arsenault,University of South Florida St. Petersburg

In this book, Littlejohn and Ford offer a well-reasoned account of a vitally important component of Virginia’s experience of Massive Resistance. In tracing the long debate about busing, white flight, and educational equality, they also raise some original questions about resource allocation and the significance of interracial interaction in the face of impersonal trends such as suburbanization and deindustrialization. The authors’ treatment of the subject is thorough and provocative.

Jill Ogline Titus, Washington College

A comprehensive and long-range view of efforts to gain educational equality in what was once Virginia’s most populous city.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

About the Author(s): 

Jeffrey L. Littlejohn is Associate Professor of History at Sam Houston State University. Charles H. Ford is Department Chair and Professor of History at Norfolk State University. They have published extensively on civil rights and school desegregation in Norfolk.

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