Source Analysis

Massive Resistance Cartoons


Lesson Plan

Fred Seibel, the Times-Dispatch, and Massive Resistance

Author: Stacy Hoeflich
School: John Adams Elementary
Grade Level: 4th
Time Estimated: 1 day (60 minute period)

Historical Background

“Massive Resistance” is the name given to the movement, led by Harry F. Byrd, Sr. of Virginia, against the integration of public schools. The idea, as fourth graders need to understand it, is simple. In 1954, Brown v. BOE mandated that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional, and therefore all public schools in Virginia were ordered to integrate. Rather than integrate the public schools, Virginia’s government sought to “resist” integration by establishing a policy of Massive Resistance, which literally closed the public schools to avoid integration. The state and federal supreme courts declared this resistance policy unconstitutional by 1959, but Prince Edward County refused to cooperate, and closed their public schools from 1959-1964. Instead, Prince Edward County, funded in part by donations from segregation supporters all over the south, opened an all white private school. In the middle of these turbulent years, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the most commonly read paper in Virginia whose audience was white Virginia, had an editorial bent that supported Massive Resistance and the “Byrd Machine.” Thus, Fred Seibel’s editorial cartoons on Massive resistance reflect the editorial perspective of the Times-Dispatch, and of much of white Virginia in the 1950s.


In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze two primary source editorial cartoons on the topic of desegregation and Massive Resistance from the Richmond Times-Dispatch and determine their meaning
  • Identify the 1954-1964 editorial perspective of the Times-Dispatch and how these two Seibel cartoons support that perspective
  • Identify the role of the media in political and social movements
  • Identify the policy of “Massive Resistance” (i.e. closing public schools to avoid integration) as part of Virginia’s fight against Brown v. Board of Education mandated desegregation
  • Identify Harry F. Byrd, Sr. as a leader of the Massive Resistance movement in Virginia
Virginia Standards of Learning


VS1: The student will develop skills for historical and geographical analysis including the ability to:
a) identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history;
b) determine cause and effect relationships;
c) compare and contrast historical events;
d) draw conclusions and make generalizations;
e) make connections between past and present;
f) sequence events in Virginia history;
g) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;
h) evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing;
i) analyze and interpret maps to explain relationships among landforms, water features, climatic characteristics, and historical events.


VS 9.b: The student will demonstrate knowledge of twentieth century Virginia by:

a) identifying the social and political events in Virginia linked to desegregation and Massive Resistance and their relationship to national history:

  • Terms to know
    • Desegregation: Abolishment of racial segregation
    • Integration: Full equality of all races in the use of public facilities
  • Desegregation and Massive Resistance in Virginia
    • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1954 (Brown v. Board of Education) that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional.
    • All public schools, including those in Virginia, were ordered to integrate.
    • Virginia’s government established a policy of Massive Resistance, which fought to “resist” the integration of public schools.
    • Some schools were closed to avoid integration.
    • The policy of Massive Resistance failed, and Virginia’s public schools were integrated.
    • Harry F. Byrd, Sr., led a Massive Resistance Movement against the integration of public schools.

Note: My students will have already studied Jim Crow laws and the Brown v. BOE case in class prior to this lesson. For Jim Crow laws, I do a primary source lesson where the students are given copies of actual Jim Crow laws from many different southern states, which show examples of segregation in many different relationships, events, and places. For Brown v. BOE we read the Thurgood Marshall book listed in the bibliography below. The Toni Morrison book is also a good way to introduce the idea that the white southerners were not willing to accept the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court. My students will already know the term “Massive Resistance ” and know Harry Byrd Sr. before this lesson. The objective of this lesson is to reinforce and expand their understanding from previous lessons.)

  • The teacher will pair the students with their social studies “buddies” (I use a high/low pairing).
  • T. shows a current editorial page of today’s newspaper (I use the Washington Post) and leads a short discussion on the editorial pages and editorial/political cartoons, and how they convey the opinions of the readership and the editors of the newspaper (as a “heads-up,” be prepared to discuss “conservative” and “liberal” because my fourth graders did not really grasp these concepts easily).
  • T. then gives each pair a copy of the Massive Resistance cartoon analysis packet, and clarifies directions and how to use the table.
  • T. hands out the 1954 Seibel cartoon and models the process of analyzing what they see using the table. For example: “I see a giant rock in the middle of the ocean. I would write “rock” on the left side of the chart. I think the rock is meant to show a big problem, so on the right side of the table I would write “big problem.” In this discussion, I would be sure to highlight the rock, the ship and school building, the man, the man’s expression, the ocean, the date, and the title “now what.” As I worked through the cartoon and leading the discussion, I tried to have the students become gradually more and more in charge of what they saw and wrote, so they were prepared to work independently on the second cartoon. By the time the students have completed the table and are ready to write the opinion or “message” of the cartoon, they could complete that on their own. (I found this process to work well for my students because they did not have a strong background in “reading” editorial cartoons. If your students do have this foundation, feel free to skip right to the independent activity with the first cartoon (step 5) rather than having a teacher led analysis.)
  • T. hands out 1958 Seibel cartoon.
  • Students discuss with their buddies and complete the table in the handout. They should have about 15-20 minutes to complete this table.
  • T. circulates to all pairs multiple times, stopping regularly to comment on an intuitive question or observation. (These two cartoons work very well together because they have the same sets of symbols. This relationship is especially significant with the man, the ship – though it has changed names, the ocean, and the sky. If you take the time to walk through the first cartoon together as a class and you point out theses symbols and what they represent, the students will use that modeling to figure out the meaning in the second cartoon.)
  • After about 15-20 minutes, T. encourages students to complete the two questions in the packet about the general meaning or opinion in the cartoon. Students should also complete the two questions that compare the two cartoons together.
  • T. brings the students all together for a wrap-up discussion (15-20 minutes) to share observations and draw conclusions. (I start with asking the students to share their thoughts on the “meaning” or opinion being expressed in the cartoon. You’re looking for them to see that, from the perspective of those who supported Massive Resistance, the south saw integration as an impermanent problem, one that didn’t need to be addressed beyond a “wait it out” philosophy. In a nutshell, the south didn’t want to integrate, and they really didn’t think they had to, even though they had been ordered to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court. The policy of Massive Resistance was a way to wait and stall until the problem was fixed. A good analogy for fourth graders here might be to ask the students if they have ever been asked to do a chore at home, like “clean your room” or “do the dishes,” and if they have ever successfully stalled or disappeared or made excuses long enough that they got out of having to do the chore. In order to facilitate the discussion, have students share their thoughts on what the most important symbol in the cartoon for conveying the message is to them. For me, it is the depiction of integration as a “storm” because I know that no matter how scary or rough the weather may get, it will always pass. If we know a hurricane is coming, we can board up the windows and batten down the hatches, but once it passes, we can go about life as normal. That’s what I see happening in this cartoon. From my own perspective, it’s an insult to the weight and authority of the United States Supreme Court to characterize it as a “passing storm.”
Homework Options
  • Have students pretend they are editorial cartoonists for a newspaper that supports integration. Have them use the same or similar symbols to draw a cartoon supporting integration (desegregation) of schools.
  • Have students complete a similar cartoon analysis packet or and abbreviated sheet using one of the other Seibel Massive Resistance Cartoons. (see for two more Seibel cartoons. One uses the Monitor and Merrimack battle for the analogy of the desegregation struggle, and since the battle of the Monitor and Merrimack is also 4th grade curriculum and they will already have studied it, I would use this cartoon first.)
  • Have students write a skit of an imaginary conversation between Thurgood Marshall (as lead council for the NAACP on Brown) and Harry F. Byrd, Sr. on the topic of desegregation. If your students don’t know who Marshall is, there is a good biography listed in the annotated bibliography below, or they can just have it be a conversation between Martin Luther King Jr. and Byrd instead.
  • Have the students write a letter to the editor of the 1950s Times-Dispatch telling the editor the opposing opinion of the cartoons.
  • Have students read/research more information on Harry F. Byrd, Sr., and write a short biography.
  • Have students create protest posters supporting and opposed to Brown.
  • Have students write a letter to the Prince Edward County School Board explaining why schools should not be closed to students.
  • Have students read the textbook lesson about Byrd and Massive Resistance and answer the questions at the end of the lesson. There is also a workbook page that goes with the lesson.
  • Have students interview a grandparent or adult in the community who was alive during segregation and desegregation and share their oral history report with the class. Depending on the situation, this can be an extension activity instead where students can work in pairs or small groups, and the interviewees can be provided by the teacher.
  • Have students analyze an editorial cartoon from a current newspaper on a current topic.
  • High-low pairings for Social Studies buddies
  • Visual primary source (rather than text) for ESL or limited English proficient students (including Learning Disabled)
  • Hands-on experience with the cartoons for visual and kinesthetic learners
  • Class discussion for aural learners
  • Extension and re-teaching options in homework choices
  • Teacher observation during pair/share and whole group discussion
  • Cartoon analysis packet
  • Any of the above “homework options”
  • Unit test

Books & Media

Boyd, Candy Dawson et al. Virginia. Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman, 2003.
This is the history textbook used by Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia.
Cavan, Seamus. Thurgood Marshall and Equal Rights. Minnesota: Econo-Clad Books, 1999.
This is an excellent short biographical story of Marshall, and how he fought as the lead lawyer for the NAACP in the Brown case. I use it to teach about Brown because it makes the story more personal (in that it connects to a specific person).
Cocke, William. A Historical Album of Virginia. Millbrook Press, 1960.
Though this resource is older, and is geared for middle school students, it can be helpful to give an overview to first-time teachers.
Foner, Eric and John A. Garrity. The Reader’s Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
This encyclopedia of American history is a great start for someone new to teaching Virginia history. You can look up a person, place, or term, and there will be a short entry giving an overview and some details. The best part can be found at the end of each entry where related entries are listed, giving the reader further places to look for context.
Lassiter, Matthew. The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Though this book does not address the topic of Massive Resistance directly, there is a whole chapter (11) on integration in the city of Richmond, and in particular, on the influence of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It is good background knowledge for a teacher who wants a fuller understanding of how desegregation happened in Virginia, and how the Byrd Machine affected it.
Morrison, Toni. Remember: The Journey to School Integration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004.
This is an outstanding and moving book of photographs taken from the 1940s through the 1970s. There is very little text, mostly because the photographs tell enough by themselves. It can be used for just one or two photographs , or read as a whole story. There is also an index of photo notes at the back which gives the specific date, place, and event for each photograph.
Prentzas, G. S. Thurgood Marshall: Champion of Justice. New York: Chelsea House Publishers (Chelsea Juniors), 1994.
This is a good biography with lots of real photographs. I also like that in chapter 4 (p.49) it specifically mentions that the “governor of Virginia said ‘I shall use every legal means at my command to continue segregated schools in Virginia.'” It doesn’t mention Massive Resistance specifically, but it does mention the intent to resist.


Alexandria City Public Schools, Curriculum and Instruction
By clicking the “staff” link on the home page and then clicking “curriculum” you will find “social studies” listed as a link. On the social studies link, there are links (approved by ACPS) for general social studies instruction (including a link to the State DOE website) and SOL test prep, and then some specific links for geography and history.
For those who may want to continue researching on their own, or who want to adapt this lesson for higher level students, this link takes you to the text of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1964 against Prince Edward County, Virginia. In its full text, the legal history of the complaints against Prince William County are detailed all the way back to 1951. It’s way too much for fourth graders, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
The Ground Beneath Our Feet
This website is the companion to the documentary of the same name, produced by the University of Virginia. There are excellent primary sources here, especially including photographs and some recorded testimonials about Massive Resistance and the integration of public schools in Virginia. The four branches from this page include “Images,” “multimedia,” “documents,” and “timeline.”
Harry F. Byrd, Sr.
This website has some general information about the leader of the Massive Resistance movement in Virginia. The best part is the list of links at the bottom which give more access to specific information about Byrd.
History Matters, Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
This site is an utterly searchable and user friendly source of primary sources and website reviews.
The Library of Congress
The Library of Congress has so many exhibitions, all with outstanding primary sources. This one is called “The African-American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship” and section IX of the exhibit is specifically on desegregation and Civil Rights.
The Library of Congress
This site is from an exhibition called “With an Even Hand: Brown V. Board at Fifty” and is full of information and primary source documents about the Brown case and the aftermath.
Primary Source Learning
This website is not a direct Library of Congress website; it is for teachers who have been participating in the Library of Congress “Adventures of the American Mind” workshops. You can search a collection of learning experiences, all of which include primary sources, and many of which were created by teachers who have participated in the workshop series.
Library of Virginia
This website is absolutely outstanding! The exhibit featured is on resistance to the Brown v. Board of Education decision and there are exciting links and fantastic information. There are primary sources, background information, and some great photographs.
Martin Luther Knig, Jr. Memorial, National Park Service
This website is referenced above for teaching about the Jim Crow Laws. You can print out primary source text of actual southern Jim Crow laws for a lesson.
Richmond Times-Dispatch
This link takes you to an article written for the Times-Dispatch in May 2004 called “Plotting Massive Resistance: Race and the Byrd Machine.” It has a good overview, with some depth to it. I also thought it was interesting because the political cartoons used in the lesson are from the 1950s era Times-Dispatch, and clearly things have changed!
Separate But Not Equal: Race, Education, and Prince Edward County, Virginia
This site is out of Virginia Commonwealth University, and is specific to Prince Edward County part in desegregation and massive resistance. It has links to primary source photographs and documents, and the specificity is an excellent way to make the story of Virginia more real and tangible for your students.
SOLutions: The Daily Press
This is a great web site to find comic strips that are educational and entertaining to the students. In May of 2000 there are five strips on Massive Resistance, and since this lesson involves looking at political cartoons, the comic strips about Massive Resistance are a nice companion.
Southern Spaces
Though it is not specific to Massive Resistance, this link takes you to an article written by William G. Thomas III from the University of Virginia called “Television News and the Civil Rights Struggle: The Views from Virginia and Mississippi” which is an interesting analysis of the role of media in the Civil Rights movement. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is specifically mentioned several times.
Virginia Commmonwealth University Special Collections
This link is to a biography of Fred Siebel with links to their collection of his work. The collection includes letters from harry Byrd, Sr. to Siebel regarding his work!
Virginia Historical Society
This site is from a 2004 exhibition, and it has excellent primary sources and information organized in a clear format. At the bottom of the page are links to the next and previous page in the exhibition site which also take you to great primary sources. On this page in particular, there is another Fred Seibel cartoon from the Times-Dispatch about desegregation, this time using the USS Monitor and Merrimack as the analogy. This cartoon is part of the assessment and extension of the lesson plan.
Virginia Places, George Mason University
This website is being developed by someone at GMU, and has an eclectic collection of information about Virginia. In particular, the above link will take you to a general explanation about the policy of Massive Resistance, and a partially completed outline with excellent links to other information.
Virginia Quarterly Review
This site is the place for in depth analysis of the Massive Resistance movement. Teachers who want lots of information behind them should begin here.