Resistance

Resistance

Although the Newport News Homesteads were driven by a utopian vision, the planners found that their project could not immune from outside interference. Not surprisingly, the most substantial obstacle came in the form of resistance from whites. Although Resettlement Administration officials had hoped to avoid racial conflicts by keeping the neighborhood segregated, some white residents organized complaints.


Some whites in Newport News objected to the project.
Although whites lived near Aberdeen, officials thought the presence of the greenbelt would serve as a buffer between the races-even though some of the land bought for the homesteads was originally white-owned. Walton's Oct. 30, 1936 memo to Tugwell expressed these hopes. He wrote, "This plan achieves at once the elimination of possible inter-racial neighborhood complications, the provision for future expansion, and also (by means of individual garden units and by the commercial cooperative operation of community trucking areas) provision for the production of supplemental income to a large proportion of the homesteaders."

Nevertheless, the level of resistance from local whites was big enough to prompt the Virginia Peninsula Association of Commerce to form a committee to investigate the homesteads. In a March 9, 1937 meeting, the Association adopted the committee's recommendation that the homesteads not expand in the future into white areas. The resistance was widespread and organized-a force to be reckoned with. The Association's report states that, "Your committee met with a group of white farmers from that section and was presented with a copy of a petition signed by hundreds of citizens from that district protesting against the project."

In its report to the Association, the committee also makes reference to a suggestion that the community be converted to a white settlement. While that proposal was rejected, it seems to have been taken seriously and rejected on grounds of unfeasibility-not because of any moral objection to such a "switch." The report concluded that, "Your committee further believes, however, that it would be unwise for this Association to request, at this late date, anything so impracticable as that this project be now converted into a residential community for white people."


Alexander wanted work to continue.
Even though they set aside active resistance to the construction of the homestead, ill-will toward the project, as well as the Resettlement Administration, lingered. In a March 11, 1937 letter to Alexander, Virginia Peninsula Association of Commerce President Raymond Bottom expressed white frustration with the project. He wrote, "We feel that your office recognizes the need that no federal project fly in the face of local sentiment... We avail ourselves of the opportunity to say that we believe it would be advantageous if the local community were taken more into the confidence of your office as to plans and proposals for the aberdeen project. A great deal of the hostility that exists doubtless comes about through a total lack of any authentic information as to either plans or prospects."

Local residents were not the only ones to object to the project. Virginia's notoriously conservative senator, Harry Byrd, was also a vocal critic. Byrd, a democrat, disapproved of subsistence homesteads in general. Byrd thought that planned communities were inefficient and communistic (Johnson, 16). He also thought that giving amenities like electricity, central heating and indoor bathrooms to 'simple mountain people' was completely unnecessary (Baldwin, 111).

Byrd and Virginia Representative Schuyler Otis Bland also had concerns about the project and asked homestead officials to investigate, but no reason to stop work was found (Tracey, 67).

But while white resistance to the homesteads was a fact of life, work moved forward.