Tag Archives: race relations

- The Murder of John R. Moffett: Race, Politics, and Local Control


J. R. Moffett portrait, Thompson, S. H., The Life of John R. Moffett. Salem, Virginia: Mrs. Pearl Bruce Moffett, 1895.

On the evening of 11 November 1892, attorney and Democratic Party operative John T. Clark shot and fatally wounded Reverend John R. Moffett on the streets of Danville. Moffett, minister of North Danville’s Missionary Baptist Church, had feuded with Clark previously. Religious people and churchmen claimed that he was targeted for loudly proclaiming his intense anti-liquor views. In their minds, Moffett was “the first martyr to the Temperance cause,” a heroic figure battling the bottle and its terrible social consequences. In reality, as historian Richard F. Hamm has persuasively argued, Moffett’s murder reflected deep divisions in Danville—and Virginia—of race, politics, and issues of local control. As a closing chapter of our blog posts related to the exhibition “Teetotalers and Moonshiners,” we will take a look at Library sources related to the events leading to the murder and the trial and its aftermath to tease out these themes.

Rev. Moffett published a newspaper dedicated to the Prohibitionist cause. The Tennessee State Library and Archives recently donated a rare issue of Anti-Liquor to the Library. The masthead proclaimed that “Anti-Liquor is a temperance and prohibition monthly, issued for the sole purpose of educating the people upon the evils of the drink habit, and especially to turn light upon the question of Legal Prohibition.” Moffett’s powerful words, delivered in speeches and in the pages of Anti-Liquor and the … read more »

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- “What Did You Learn in School Today?” – The Records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board


Senate of Virginia, 1956, Foster Studio, Richmond, Virginia, Library of Virginia Special Collections, Prints & Photographs.

As public schools across Virginia open this week, Out of the Box would like to spotlight the records of the Virginia Pupil Placement Board, a state agency created in 1956 in reaction to the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) United States Supreme Court decision.  The Pupil Placement Board, as one arm of Virginia’s policy of Massive Resistance, was charged with assigning, enrolling, or placing students to and in public schools, a task formerly under the control of local school boards and divisions of superintendents.  The board operated from 1957 to 1966, but its power diminished with the end of Massive Resistance in 1959.  The collection, now available to researchers, contains 746 boxes of paper records.  Included are correspondence and subject files, personnel files, board minutes, legal files, maps, publications and newspaper clippings, and applications for student placement.

The board’s authorizing legislation required members to take several factors into consideration when placing a pupil in a school. Factors included but were not limited to the health of the pupil, his or her aptitudes, the availability of transportation, and, “such other relevant matters as may be pertinent to the efficient operation of the schools or indicate a clear and present danger to the public peace and tranquility affecting the safety or welfare of the citizens of such school district.” Students who were already in … read more »

- “I’m not sure that I ought to say all these things…”

Image Transcripts

Founded in 1928, the original intent of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was to promote positive relations among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Over the ensuing decades, the group had to figure out whether its stated focus on “the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of God” also encompassed racial unity. Dissent and confusion within the organization led to a lack of clarity in the public eye as to its mission.

On 15 September 1956, Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Virginius Dabney (1901-1995) forwarded to longtime NCCJ Virginia Region Director Peter Mellette (1920-1993) this draft of a letter to NCCJ President Everett Clinchy. In it, Dabney pointed out the ambiguous implications of the word “brotherhood,” and cautioned Clinchy that the organization’s endorsement of racially-focused literature “can not fail to embarrass those of us in the South who are trying to work with you.”

Dabney was labeled a Southern liberal early in his career, partly because of his progressive views on race issues. By the mid-1950s, his interest in equality for African Americans was intact, but he favored a gradual approach. Interestingly, even as he advised the NCCJ to reconsider its message, Dabney himself was about to be limited in the full expression of his own views.

In 1956, Virginia embarked on the path of “Massive Resistance,” the state’s notorious attempt to thwart school desegregation. Although … read more »