New Public Artwork Commemorates the End of Massive Resistance in Norfolk

by | Apr 25, 2023

A new public artwork, “End of Massive Resistance,” will be unveiled in Norfolk, Virginia, commemorating the historic events that unfolded during the civil rights movement in the city. The artwork, which will be located in Flat Iron Park in downtown Norfolk, was commissioned by the Norfolk Public Arts Commission and designed and fabricated by RE:site, a renowned public art and memorial design firm.


The idea for the artwork was first introduced in 2009 by the “Commission to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Norfolk School Desegregation and the End of Massive Resistance,” which suggested the creation of a permanent monument to commemorate this significant chapter in Norfolk’s history. The project was put on hold for several years due to various construction projects in the city, including the light rail and city hall plaza. However, with the support of the community and funding from the Norfolk Public Arts Commission, the project finally came to fruition.


The site for the artwork was carefully selected after considering several locations, including near the courthouse and city hall, the school administration building, and the waterfront. Ultimately, Flat Iron Park was chosen for its central downtown location and its proximity to the federal courthouse, where many of the events related to the desegregation of public schools in Norfolk took place. The park’s elevated lot also serves as a pedestal for the artwork, providing a fitting location for its installation.


RE:site, known for their expertise in creating public art, memorials, and commemorative spaces, was selected as the artist for the project. The criteria provided for the artwork included the need to tell the multifaceted story of the struggle for equal education, the end of massive resistance, and the changing race relations in Norfolk. The artwork needed to have an emotional impact, communicate a depth of feeling and human understanding of the history, and foster curiosity, discovery, and dialog within the community.


The artwork itself is a solid brick 1959 schoolhouse wall that transforms into glass blocks. It features photos of the chained school doors, images of the Norfolk 17, a group of Black students who were the first to desegregate Norfolk’s public schools in 1958, and a poem by local poet Tim Seibels. In addition, a detailed timeline of events related to the desegregation of public schools in Norfolk and the end of massive resistance is included, providing an educational aspect to the artwork.


The goal of the artwork is to not only commemorate the past but also to inspire shared experiential moments, collaborative viewership, and conversations about difficult histories and social justice issues within the community. The artwork aims to honor the sacrifices of the Norfolk 17, the Lost Class, the thousands of students who were locked out of school during the massive resistance period, as well as the politicians, the press, churches, and the business community who played a role in this important chapter of Norfolk’s history.


“We believe that art contributes to who we are as a community,” said a representative from the Norfolk Public Arts Commission. “Through art and visual storytelling, we can feel deep emotions together and process experiences, finding connections. We hope that the ‘End of Massive Resistance’ artwork educates viewers about the history and importance of Norfolk’s role in the national stage of desegregating public schools and fosters conversations about equity and social justice.”


The dedication of the “End of Massive Resistance” public artwork is expected to be attended by members of the Norfolk 17, the local community, and representatives from the Norfolk Public Arts Commission and RE:site. The artwork has already garnered attention and appreciation from visitors, and several upcoming events and initiatives related to civil rights and social justice are planned in conjunction


End of Massive Resistance Public Art Dedication and Celebration

Thursday, April 27, at 10 a.m.

Flatiron Park, 114 W. Charlotte Street, Norfolk, VA 23510

Free and open to the public


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