'The work is not done. I only opened the door': Member of Norfolk 17 shares experience at ODU panel

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Norfolk 17 Flier
Posted at 9:52 PM, Feb 17, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. – At 76 years old, Dr. Patricia Turner remembers the day she stepped foot in Norview Jr. High School.

She was 14. "We were taught how to be a soldier,” said Turner.

She was also taught how to react when attacked by white students.

Students spitting on her are some of her worst memories.

"I was told to wipe it off because it was just water and to always stand tall,” she adds.

Today, she’s able to share her story - a story leaders at Old Dominion University want to preserve.

That’s why the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies put a panel of friends, family and educators together to dive into the past.

“They ended Massive Resistance in Virginia,” said Dr. Marvin Chiles, an Associate Professor of African American History at ODU.

In 1958, Virginia chose to close all schools because they didn’t want to integrate. A court decision reversed that order, allowing Turner and 16 other Black students to attend all-white schools.

"She was called 'a dark cloud' and had a knife thrown at her,” said Lavell White, whose late mother, Patricia White, was one of the Norfolk 17.

“As a mother, she made sure my siblings and I understood the struggle,” White adds.

A struggle that some of the white students say they didn’t even notice.

"Most of the kids were indifferent. Our sin was ignoring what was going on. I'm so sorry they did,” said Jerry Collier. He’s the 1963 class president of Norview Senior High School.

Collier is now a good friend of Turner’s.

"I wish I would've been a better man or a better student,” he adds.

Former Norfolk City Councilmember Randy Wright was a close friend of James "Skip" Turner, Patricia Turner’s brother who died in 2003 and another member of the Norfolk 17.

Wright and Skip Turner became good friends in seventh grade at Norview Middle.

"If everyone would stop looking at the color and the blood... it's all the same,” said Wright.

Patricia Turner says we still have a long way to go.

Related: Petition seeks to rename Maury High after 'Norfolk 17' student as board suggests removal of Confederacy ties

"The work is not done. I only opened the door,” she adds.

A heavy door that came with struggles, but it didn’t stop her from getting multiple degrees from Norfolk State University and ODU.

"We did it for the future. It wasn't for us - it was for you!” she adds.

Turner is also an author. Her first book is titled "Today I Met A Rainbow," a full circle moment for the retired Norfolk schoolteacher.

“When I look out of the classroom with children with all races, of all nationalities, it was a beautiful rainbow,” she adds.

A literal representation and sign that things are getting better.