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Aline Elizabeth Black (1906–1974)

Aline Elizabeth Black was a teacher known primarily as a principal in a civil rights court case. A graduate of what became Virginia State University, Black began teaching science in Norfolk city schools in 1924. As an African American, she received a substantially smaller salary than a comparably qualified white teacher. In 1939 she agreed to be the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in Norfolk to challenge this double standard. The school board fired Black in retaliation for her suit, but another plaintiff continued the case and in 1940 the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that teacher salaries were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Black was rehired by the school board in 1941. She continued to teach in Norfolk until her retirement in 1973; she died a year later. MORE...

 

Black was born in Norfolk on March 23, 1906, the only daughter and third of four children of Charles Black and Ida Black. She attended the local public schools and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. In 1924, with a temporary teaching certificate, she began working in the Norfolk public school system as a science instructor. Black graduated from Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University) in 1926 and continued her education at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, enrolling in 1931 and receiving an MS in 1935.

As an African American, Black received a substantially smaller salary than a comparably qualified white teacher. Racial disparity in salaries had been a long-standing grievance of the Norfolk Teachers Association and the Virginia State Teachers Association, which together enlisted the cooperation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to challenge the double standard as a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Black volunteered to be the plaintiff in the suit, which was filed in the state circuit court in Norfolk in March 1939. The local court dismissed the case, and Black's attorneys, chief among whom was Thurgood Marshall, filed an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. In June 1939 the Norfolk School Board declined to renew Black's contract in retaliation for her having sued the school system. The Supreme Court of Appeals then denied the appeal on the grounds that Black was no longer an employee and therefore lacked the standing to sue.

Black's dismissal outraged Norfolk's African American community and embarrassed many of the city's white leaders. Another Norfolk teacher, Melvin O. Alston, took Black's place as plaintiff and a new suit was filed to reopen the issue. In November 1940 the United States Supreme Court upheld an appellate court's ruling that teacher salaries fell under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Norfolk School Board then promised to raise the salaries of black teachers. The case Black helped initiate enjoyed partial success in establishing the principal of equal pay, but it did not establish a binding precedent in future legal battles against racial discrimination in public education and employment.

Black completed part of the requirements for a doctorate in chemistry at New York University after losing her job, but she returned to Norfolk in 1941 when the school board rehired her. She resumed teaching science at Booker T. Washington High School and remained there until 1970, when she became an instructional development specialist at Jacox Junior High School. Active in the local chapter of the NAACP and in the Education Association of Norfolk, she received the latter's Backbone Award in 1971 in recognition of her important contribution to educational and professional equality. She retired in 1973.

Black had married Frank A. Hicks during World War II (1939–1945), and they had one daughter. Aline Elizabeth Black Hicks died in Norfolk on August 22, 1974, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery in Norfolk.

Time Line

  • March 23, 1906 - Aline Elizabeth Black is born in Norfolk to Charles Black and Ida Black.
  • 1924 - Aline Elizabeth Black begins to work in the Norfolk public school system as a science instructor.
  • 1926 - Aline Elizabeth Black graduates from Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (later Virginia State University).
  • 1935 - Aline Elizabeth Black receives her master of science degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
  • March 1939 - On behalf of Aline Elizabeth Black, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People files suit against the Norfolk School Board for equality in pay. The state circuit court in Norfolk dismisses the case and Black's attorneys file an appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
  • June 1939 - The Norfolk School Board declines to renew Aline Elizabeth Black's contract in retaliation for her having sued the school system; the Supreme Court of Appeals then denies Black’s appeal on the grounds that she is no longer an employee and therefore lacks the standing to sue.
  • June 18, 1940 - In Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rules that the comparatively low pay of black teachers in Norfolk is discriminatory and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court will decline to hear another appeal.
  • November 1940 - The U.S. Supreme Court upholds an appellate court's ruling that teacher salaries fall under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • 1941 - Having pursued a doctorate in chemistry at New York University after losing her job, Aline Elizabeth Black returns to Norfolk when the Norfolk School Board rehires her to teach science at Booker T. Washington High School.
  • 1941–1945 - At some point during this period of time, Aline Elizabeth Black marries Frank A. Hicks. They will have one daughter.
  • 1970 - Aline Elizabeth Black Hicks leaves her teaching position at Booker T. Washington High School to become an instructional development specialist at Jacox Junior High School.
  • 1971 - Aline Elizabeth Black Hicks receives the Education Association of Norfolk's Backbone Award in recognition of her contribution to educational and professional equality.
  • 1973 - Aline Elizabeth Black Hicks retires from her teaching position at Jacox Junior High School.
  • August 22, 1974 - Aline Elizabeth Black Hicks dies in Norfolk and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.
Further Reading
Lewis, Earl. In Their Own Interests: Race, Class, and Power in Twentieth-Century Norfolk. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
Smith, J. Douglas. Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Tarter, Brent. "Aline Elizabeth Black." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Vol. 1, John T. Kneebone et al, 510–511. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 1998.
Wallenstein, Peter. Blue Laws and Black Codes: Conflict, Courts, and Change in Twentieth-Century Virginia. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Aline Elizabeth Black (1906–1974). (2014, July 24). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Black_Aline_Elizabeth_1906-1974.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Aline Elizabeth Black (1906–1974)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 24 Jul. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: May 29, 2013 | Last modified: July 24, 2014


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography