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The Gainsboro History Project

1954-1970 In 1954, the landmark court case, Brown v. Board of Education, ended segregation of public schools. In Virginia, there was massive resistance. In the 1960s in Roanoke, Black and White leaders formed a Biracial Committee to pursue change peacefully in schools and businesses. The committee accomplished the desegregation of schools, theaters, restaurants, and closure of a city dump.

The Long Road of Desegregation in Roanoke

Prior to 1955, Black and White communities in Roanoke were segregated—homes, businesses, schools, churches, and even public spaces. Segregation affected daily activities, social life, and economic and educational opportunities. One positive outcome was that it furthered strong Black communities with supportive business, civic, social, and educational systems. It was this network that strongly advocated for and achieved positive changes for racial equality. Unfortunately, when schools and businesses were desegregated in the 1960s, the loss of neighborhood centers and schools greatly diminished community lifelines.

  • The Henry Street Business District, a business, social, and cultural center,  was destroyed by urban renewal and expanding business opportunities outside of Gainsboro.
  • Harrison Elementary School (1916) was closed, sending children to schools outside of Gainsboro, often traveling distances by bus.
  • Booker T. Washington Junior High School (1929 Addison High School) was closed and Black students dispersed.
  • Lucy Addison High School (1952), known for outstanding Black graduates and educators, was converted to an integrated middle school.

Desegregation in Virginia and in Roanoke progressed very slowly. There was “massive resistance” across the Commonwealth. After Brown v. The Board of Education (1954) ended segregated schools, it took Roanoke until 1970, over fifteen years, to fully integrate public schools.

The integration of businesses in Roanoke also progressed slowly. The approach pursued was one of “passive resistance.” Black and White leaders in Roanoke worked collaboratively and peacefully through a Biracial Committee and within established political, social, and business circles to achieve integration in schools, business services, and employment.

In This Chapter


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