Keep on Keeping on: VCU historian publishes book on desegregation

Author Brian Daugherity commented on the “Norfolk 17,” one of the first group of African-American students to attend integrated schools. Photo by Cameron Leonard
Author Brian Daugherity commented on the “Norfolk 17,” one of the first group of African-American students to attend integrated schools. Photo by Cameron Leonard

The Humanities Research Center hosted Associate Professor of History Brian Daugherity during their monthly “Meet VCU’S Authors” speaker series on Jan. 25.

Daugherity discussed his recently released book, “Keep on Keeping on: The NAACP and the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education in Virginia” during the Q&A style lecture.

The historian said he had delved into the topic of the landmark Supreme Court case before when he and fellow historian, Charles Bolton, co-edited a collection of academic essays titled “With All Deliberate Speed (2008)” which focused the National implementation of Brown V. Board.

For “Keep on Keeping on,” however, Daugherity decided to focus on the state level after being advised as a PhD student at William & Mary to hone his focus.

“An advisor told me, ‘You’re in Virginia, you’ve got the resources, you’re here’ and I realize it would have been harder otherwise,” Daugherity said.

In turn, his book centers on the significance of the NAACP in desegregating the Virginia school system through the use of litigation and the transition of desegregation over time.

Daugherity said there is a gap in the historiography of Brown v. Board of Education and the NAACP’s role in the Civil Rights era, which he said in his opinion is the most important of the Civil Rights organizations.

“There are a number of books about the period leading to it, a number of accounts of the people who argued a series of court cases leading up to the decision — but there are few works that look into its implementation,” Daugherity said.

The book’s research required him to do a bulk of his reading in the Library of Congress.

“The collection on the NAACP is the Library’s largest collection,” he said. “It has nearly a million pages of documents across the organization since its creation in 1909.”

In addition to research, Daugherity told to the crowd that he held multiple and extensive interviews with people who were involved in the process of desegregation.

He explained that Richmond was the base for most of the NAACP’s activity during this era, and his interviews included Richmond natives like Oliver Hill — the famed Civil Rights leader and former head Attorney for Virginia’s NAACP litigation team.

The heart of the book is in the stories told through the individuals who provided accounts of their own efforts, and the difficulty in implementing the ruling in the community.

Daugherity also spoke with former students who were the first to attend the newly desegregated schools, the teams of lawyers who fought “Massive Resistance” — referencing the decision to close Prince William’s Schools for five year rather than integrate schools, as well as judge Robert Merhige who was the first Federally appointed judge in Virginia to order massive integration of schools alongside the NAACP in Richmond.

Toward the end of the Q & A portion, Daugherity commented on the  continuation of segregation in public schools today.

“What I argue in the book is that desegregation has been successful in a number of localities in Virginia, in rural counties especially, but in cities not so much,” he said.

Daugherity’s comment counters popular notion that rural America is more adverse to diversifying their communities.

It is also an important figure to take note of as the topic of modern school segregation has become a source of of heavy debate and contention in Richmond and other cities, despite the River City once serving as a national model for integration.

Daugherty ultimately makes the case that the NAACP has never received the recognition it deserves, and that the organization — despite recent scandals and accusations of following political correctness — maintains an imperative role in civil rights issues today.

Siona Peterous. Photo by Julie TrippSpectrum Editor: Siona Peterous
Siona is a senior majoring in political science with a concentration in international relations and a double minor in media studies and Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. She is heavily influenced by her family’s immigrant background and often writes about the intersection of politics with identity. Siona is an advocate for grassroots activism and political movements, and her dream job involves multimedia-based investigative journalism. She has a plethora of life goals but is only focusing on two right now: learning as many languages as possible and perfecting her Instagram aesthetic.

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