Andrew Heidelberg

NAACP, 1958-62, Virginia

Born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia, I was one of seventeen black students to integrate the city's public schools in February 1959. After persevering in the heavily racist classrooms of Norview High School for nearly three years, I became the first African-American to play varsity football at a previously all-white public school in Virginia and the South.

This needless to say was a traumatic experience for me and the other sixteen children. I was 14 at the time. Now, at 64 years old, it means a lot to have been part of that awful time in history. I also feel that being the first varsity football player on a previously all-white school team (1961) was a significant contributing factor to move integration along in the South.

I wrote the only book by any of the 17 students entitled, The Norfolk 17: A Personal Narrative on Desegregation in Norfolk, Virginia in 1958-1962. Also, I speak at various elementary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities in Virginia and cities throughout America. I recently completed a screenplay from the book entitled "The Colored Halfback" and hope that it will make it to the big screen by '09.

It is now fifty (50) years since that day that the seventeen of us integrated schools in Virginia (three have passed away) and many of us still find it difficult to talk about those terrible days. I do say that my plot was somewhat different from the other sixteen because although we share a lot of the same awful memories, my last year in the school (1961-1962), I was fortunate to have played on Norview High School's powerful, state championship football team (the team had won 37 straight games without a loss) the same team that would not let me play a year earlier. Note that no blacks had attempted to play on a previously all-white, public school's varsity team in Virginia nor the South. I was one of its star players and I had a tremendous year that erased all the terrible memories from the previous three if you can believe such a thing. So, I left the school having seen the very good and the very, very, very bad side of white people. I don't believe any of the others were so fortunate.

The book is about my personal experiences and feelings as part of the "Norfolk 17" who went through the hardship of the initial school desegregation debacle in 1958-1962. Most Americans and especially people of color and our young people don't know that the original Brown v. Board of Education case was decided based on the horrible conditions found in the 132 briefs prepared by Oliver Hill for the school districts in Virginia. Neither do they know that the City of Norfolk closed its schools in September 1958 in defiance to the United States Supreme Court's decision declaring "Separate but Equal" unconstitutional. The schools remained closed until February 2, 1959. Know that schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia remained closed for five years. I think that statement from the whites in Virginia should give you somewhat of a clue as to how the seventeen were treated when they entered the schools in 1959.

I wish I could get the others to write and relay some of their experiences; it would be so helpful to our youth of today and as cleansing therapy for us. More importantly, their stories would provide a first-hand account of what truly happened. As I always explain, I am a firm believer of the notion that history books are written by the "winners of war"(i.e., one-sided by whoever is in control). And, just like a well-prepared photo album, formal history books hide the "dirty laundry". In order to find the truth, one must necessarily dig deep, and sometimes the truth is so deep that it is still buried within people's feelings. Therefore, when we bring it out in written form, it is a great service for the present and the future and will help preserve the memories of the past no matter how painful they may be. We should know that that best way to get the truth is to go to the people who lived it. (I know I read that somewhere). Is there someway I can have the site review my book?


Copyright ©
(Labor donated)