The Norfolk 17

LaVera Forbes Olivia Driver James Turner, Jr. Lolita Portis Patricia Turner Claudia Wellington Geraldine Talley Delores Johnson Johnnie Rouse Edward Jordan Alveraze Frederick Gonsouland Reginald Young Carol Wellington Betty Jean Reed Patricia Godbolt Louis Cousins Andrew Heidelberg


Louis Cousins was the only black student to attend Maury High School in 1959 at 15 years old. He graduated in 1962.

The other members of the Norfolk 17 referred to Louis as "the professor" because of his intelligence. As witnessed in a much-publicized photograph*, he too was ostracized. The photograph shows Maury's large auditorium with Louis Cousins isolated from the rest of the students.

An article** in the San Antonio Express-News talks about how Cousins felt alone as he entered the school on his first day, amid "curious stares--and silence."

"This school was totally white, all white students," he said. "The only thing that might have been black was the staff that did the floors."

Aside from the isolation, Cousins - like the other Norfolk 17 children - also endured taunts. He recalled students would sit on the brick wall around the school before classes began and hurl insults as he walked by.

"We were called tar baby, nigger, Sambo in the hallways," recounted the 60-year-old Cousins. 

At his home, tormenters broke out windows and once burned a cross in his front yard to "symbolize the KKK," he said. 

The only time he lost his composure, Cousins recalled, was when a student spat on him. Cousins chased the classmate down the hall and into the principal's office. The student later was suspended. 

After high school, Cousins joined the Air Force and worked as a medic in Vietnam. He lives in San Antonio, Texas and has retired as a medical technician. About the Norfolk 17, he believes that "we were there for a purpose... We were there to open the doors not only for ourselves, but for our race."**

* Louis Cousins ostracized in the Maury auditorium. (Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch staff photo from a news clipping in the collection of the Women's Council for Interracial Cooperation.)

Louis Cousins leaving Maury High School on his first day. (The Virginian-Pilot staff photo from a news clipping in the collection of the Women's Council for Interracial Cooperation.)

** Garza, Sonja. "Veteran recalls crossing color line at Virginia high school." San Antonio Express-News, February 29, 2004. (Lexis-Nexis - Link)