Charlottesville Twelve

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The Charlottesville Twelve is the name given to the group of 12 African American students who first attended Charlottesville's previously all-white public schools in 1959.

The students transferred into Venable Elementary School and Lane High School. Both schools had been closed during "massive resistance" by order of Governor James Lindsey Almond, Jr. in September, 1958, but were reopened in February, 1959. The 12 students entered the schools for the first time on September 8, 1959.[1]

Integration efforts in Charlottesville began after the 1954 Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education case, which ordered an end to segregated public schools. The NAACP and the students' parents sued the Charlottesville City School Board for access in 1955, but the school board was highly resistant. U.S. District Chief Judge John Paul Jr. ruled in 1956 that the city must integrate Lane and Venable, but this was heavily appealed by the city school board. On September 5, 1959, Judge Paul ordered that the twelve students who would become known as "The Charlottesville Twelve" be transferred immediately from their previous schools, all-black Jefferson Elementary School and Jackson P. Burley High School[1].

List of Students and Parents[1]

Note that this only lists parents still living at the time of integration.

Venable Elementary School

  • Charles E. Alexander (Elizabeth Taylor)
  • Raymond Dixon (Joan Brown)
  • Regina Dixon (Joan Brown)
  • Maurice Henry (John and Melba Henry)
  • Marvin Townsend (Thelma Townsend)
  • William Townsend (Thelma Townsend)
  • Sandra Wicks (Robert and Elizabeth Wicks)
  • Roland T. Woodfolk (mother, unknown)
  • Ronald E. Woodfolk (mother, unknown)

Lane High School

  • French Jackson (Dr. Ellard and Mae Jackson)
  • Don Martin (John and Julia Martin)
  • John Martin (John and Julia Martin)

Student Experiences

Most of the former students said that their integration experience "instilled in them the work ethic, personal skills and high-quality education that led to success in adult life."[2] Charlottesville Twelve member Charles E. Alexander said that Charlottesville's transition to integration had been noted as one of the most problem-free in Virginia by Eugene Williams of the civil rights movement[2].

Many of the students reported feeling isolated, but generally there was little open animosity. The lingering segregation in Charlottesville at the time did limit social interactions between classmates of different races, however. John Martin, the oldest member of the Twelve, said that the students who integrated into Lane High experienced more hostility, saying that "he was physically attacked by his peers, barred from playing on the football team and ignored by every teacher except for his Spanish instructor."[2]

Commemoration Efforts

On November 18, 2011, two duplicate markers recognizing the "Triumph of the Charlottesville Twelve" were unveiled. Eight of the original twelve students were on hand for ceremonies at Venable Elementary School and the former site of Lane High School, now the Albemarle County Office Building. These events were followed by a panel discussion featuring six of the "Charlottesville Twelve" held at Venable ES on November 19, 2011. The events were coordinated by the city of Charlottesville, Our Legacy of Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and the Dialogue on Race community initiative.[3]

Triumph of “The Charlottesville Twelve” Marker inscription

Venable Elementary School.
Charles E. Alexander, Raymond Dixon, Regina Dixon, Maurice Henry, Marvin Townsend, William Townsend, Sandra Wicks, Roland T. Woodfolk, Ronald E. Woodfolk.
Lane High School.
French Jackson, Donald Martin, John Martin.
On September 8, 1959, nine African American children bravely entered Venable Elementary School by order of U.S. District Court Judge John Paul. With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the children’s parents sued the Charlottesville City School Board for equal access. Their fight began in 1955, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision of the 1954 case, Brown v Board of Education. Parents took action to fulfill their civil rights by petitioning the Charlottesville School Board to transfer their children from the segregated Jefferson Elementary School and Jackson P. Burley High School. The School Board chose to take no action on the petition request. In 1956, Judge Paul ruled that Charlottesville must integrate Lane High School and Venable Elementary School. The School Board filed several appeals contesting the decision to comply with integration. Using the strategy of “massive resistance,” Governor James Lindsey Almond, Jr. ordered the closure of Lane and Venable on September 19, 1958 to prevent the integration of the Charlottesville City Schools. When schools in Charlottesville reopened in February 1959, the School Board provided space in the Board office for students to take classes while they determined how to proceed with a plan for integration. On September 5, 1959, Judge Paul ordered the immediate transfer of twelve students who became known as "The Charlottesville Twelve."

Marker locations

On the grounds of Venable Elementary School at the intersection of 14th Street NW and Gordon Avenue; On the grounds of the former site of Lane High School, now the Albemarle County Office Building at the intersection of McIntire Road and Preston Avenue.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Web. Charlottesville 12 historical markers' text, Historical marker text, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, Nov 19, 2011, retrieved Nov 22, 2011. Print. Nov 20, 2011 page A6.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Web. Charlottesville 12 recall integration experiences, Graham Moomaw, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, Nov 19, 2011, retrieved Nov 22, 2011. Print. Nov 20,2011 page A1.
  3. Web. New markers honor Charlottesville 12 students, Graham Moomaw, Daily Progress, Lee Enterprises, Nov 18, 2011, retrieved Nov 22, 2011. Print. Nov 19, 2011 page A1.