1958: Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools
As the NAACP pressed on with the Thompson case with repeated success, the moment was quickly approaching when the Commonwealth, to keep schools segregated, would have to use the only other tool at its disposal—closing the schools.
On May 1, 1958, the Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools, recently formed by a small group of white racial moderates and integrationists, issued a statement that expressed a willingness to “pursue every legal means to keep public schools open.” The group further expressed absolute agnosticism about the issue of segregation and a distrust of the idea of giving public funds to private education.
By the time of the following month’s meeting of the organization, the group numbered over 700 members.
Over the next few months, the organization served as an important point of communication for those opposed to closing schools, including concerned citizens, administrators, and a majority of the county’s parent-teacher associations.
The Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools was all white, and in limiting membership to white people it was able to gather and rally a disparate group of white racial moderates. Dr. O. Glenn Stahl, president of the organization, claimed that it represented:
a very broad segment of the population, including many, many people who much prefer to have segregation. Therefore it’s not an integrationist group. But it is concerned about keeping the public schools open and not letting the public schools be sacrificed in order to settle the question of integration.
By assembling a large group of racial moderates who were more concerned with keeping schools open than with one another’s views on integration, the Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools was able to exert pressure on local and state politicians. They made closing the schools—the “nuclear option” upon which Massive Resistance depended—a far less attractive option to the appointed county School Board and to state officials.
While the NAACP used the courts to pressure the schools to desegregate, the Committee pressured the segregationist-leaning School Board to make a commitment to keeping the schools open. The organization would soon grow into a statewide one, the Virginia Committee to Preserve Public Schools, which would use much the same strategy throughout the Commonwealth.