February 2, 2024

Black History– On This Day in 1959


7 min read

The Norfolk 17, February 2, 1959

Sixty-five years ago today, seventeen cautiously brave Black teenagers rocked the foundation of the racist South, accomplishing what many at the time had thought impossible … ending segregation at six public schools in Norfolk, Virginia. If getting there had been a war, being there was horrendous. 

Frightening? In classrooms, white bullies pelted the Black kids with spit wads and slurs. Teachers looked the other way, either bigoted or simply afraid to take a stand. The hallways were worse, the bathrooms near deadly. 

The most famous of the Norfolk 17 would be Andrew Heidelberg, the first African American to play “white” high school football in the South. His impact in the prejudiced world of the late fifties and early sixties is the focus of a powerful work of humanity, humor, absurdity, and survival … Heidelberg of the Norfolk 17 by Robert D. Gaines and Andrew Heidelberg (Hidden Shelf Publishing House).

“Andrew was an amazing and complex person,” said Gaines. “The non-stop abuse he and the other sixteen Black teenagers faced every day was both horrifying and surreal. He survived by his wits, his tenacity, and his phenomenal talents … but the scars went deep.”


Read an excerpt from Heidelberg by Robert D. Gaines and Andrew Heidelberg

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