NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Five years after the Supreme Court said no to Jim Crow, with Justice Earl Warren writing, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” 17 Black students integrated Norfolk Public Schools. Patricia Turner’s walk to Norview Junior High on Feb. 2, 1959, with her brother and others, was marked with violence.
“The adults threw rocks at us; they threw liquid stuff at us; they were yelling all types of names but yet we continued on,” said Turner, who joined three other classmates for an interview in advance of the class of 1963’s 60th reunion, which takes place this weekend at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
Over the years, Turner has shared the stories of how she was hit with spitballs in class, shoved in hallways, and denied playing time with the field hockey team.
For the prom, Turner said her family received a call from the School Board with a warning: If she attended the prom, it would be canceled. Turner told 10 on Your Side that even as an academically exceptional student — especially in math — she was denied access to all extracurricular activities.
The pre-reunion interview took place at the downtown Norfolk Freemason Abbey Restaurant, owned by 1963 class president Jerry Collier. In the main dining room of the church-turned-restaurant, Collier listened intently to Turner’s account of Feb. 2, 1963. In the interview, he offered regrets that he didn’t do more to help Patricia Turner.
“As I think back about it, I could have been more outspoken about what was going on, to tell you the truth,” Collier said. “I just didn’t know everything that was going on.”
The class of ’63 is getting smaller, but not their commitment to honoring their role in American history. Beth Dills Banks shared a conversation she had with a granddaughter.
“She called one day and said ‘MeMe, we are studying the Norfolk 17. Do you know anything about that?’ I thought it was really interesting that the topic is carrying on as a reminder to the current generation of what happened in the past and hopefully what won’t happen again,” Dills Banks said.
The 60th class reunion comes as history is under assault. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said schools should not teach what he calls divisive concepts.
“I believe that, not to whitewash everything, but to include about the racial divide in both sides,” said classmate Margaret Doughty Cross. “This racial divide should be ceased.”
About that prom that Patricia Turner missed in 1963?
At the 45th reunion in 2008, Jerry Collier surprised Turner when he brought her to the floor for a dance. So moved with emotion, Turner said she could remain on her feet for only about 30 seconds.
It was a brief, but a tender moment for the entire class of 1963.