In 1938, Aline Black, an African American chemistry teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk, Virginia, received a substantially smaller salary than her white counterparts. As a result, she petitioned the school board for a pay raise commensurate with the salary of white teachers with similar qualifications. At the time of the petition, the white janitor at the school was paid a higher salary than any of the African American faculty. White and black teachers in the city's school system and in all other public school systems in the state were paid on different salary schedules. When the school board refused her request, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Norfolk Teachers Association, and the Virginia State Teachers Association filed suit on Black's behalf in March 1939. Her attorneys argued that the discriminatory salary scales deprived her of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. After winning the decision in the local court, the city school board refused to renew Black's contract, and she lost her job. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals refused to hear the case after Black lost her job.
The outrage over Black's termination brought together African American adversaries who had disagreed on various tactics and strategies in the fight for civil rights. A massive protest took place, with African American schoolchildren marching in the streets carrying placards and banners demanding justice for Black and comparing the school board with Hitler and Mussolini.
Another Norfolk teacher, Melvin O. Alston, took Black's place as plaintiff, and filed a new suit. In November 1940 the Supreme Court of the United States upheld an appellate court's ruling that teacher salaries fell under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Norfolk School Board then promised to raise the salaries of all African American teachers. The victory was a local one, only, and did not establish a precedent that required other school systems or public agencies elsewhere in Virginia or in the United States to pay comparably qualified people on an equal pay scale. Black was rehired in 1941, and she resumed teaching science at Booker T. Washington High School. She continued her career in the Norfolk public school system until she retired in 1973.
1. Was Aline Black successful in her quest for equal pay?
2. On what grounds were her lawsuits dismissed?
1. The NAACP had been interested in filing a lawsuit like Aline Black's for many years, but waited until it had the support of the Norfolk Teachers Association and the Virginia State Teachers Association. Why would this support be important? Did waiting for the support to be in place help in determining the outcome of the case?
Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.