School Desegregation In Arlington
The first public schools in Arlington County, Virginia (then known as Alexandria County) were established in 1870: the Columbia and Walker schools, which were for whites only, and the Arlington School for Negroes in Freedman’s Village, which was located on land seized from Robert E. Lee’s plantation. In 1932, Hoffman-Boston Junior High School, opened, allowing black students to pursue education past primary school in Arlington for the first time. However, since Hoffman-Boston was not accredited until the 1950s, many black Arlingtonians commuted to Washington, DC to pursue secondary education. In 1947, the NAACP sued the Arlington School Board for not providing equal educational facilities to black students in Constance Carter v. The School Board of Arlington County, Virginia. In 1950, the courts ruled in the NAACP’s favor. As a result, increased funding was earmarked to the segregated schools for black students and black teachers began receiving equal pay.
In 1949, after advocacy from a local citizen’s group, Arlingtonians for a Better County, Arlington’s school board became the first in Virginia to be democratically elected rather than appointed.
In 1954, after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, all public schools in the United States were required to desegregate. The political leaders of Virginia and the Virginia General Assembly , led by United States Senator Harry F.Byrd adopted a policy of “massive resistance” to desegregation. Under massive resistance, schools that desegregated would be closed and students would be given money to attend private schools until the schools could be resegregated. Ten days after the Brown ruling, the Arlington County School board began a committee to research how to comply with the ruling. In January 1956, a plan to gradually desegregate Arlington’s public schools was released by the committee. Less than a month later, the Virginia General Assembly voted to remove Arlington of its democratically elected school board, which the more conservative Arlington County Board replaced with officials more sympathetic to segregation. The integration plan was overturned by the new school board. That same year, the NAACP, on behalf of black and white students and their families, sued the new school board in an attempt to compel them to integrate in Clarissa Thompson v. the County School Board of Arlington, which was filed concurrently with other integration lawsuits around Virginia.
Many white racial moderates feared that the Board would close public schools rather than allow them to be desegregated. On May 1, 1958, the Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools, an all-white group dedicated to preventing the closure of public schools, which was neutral on segregation, was formed.
On January 19, 1959, the Supreme Court of Virginia effectively ended massive resistance by ruling in James v. Almond that public school closures in violated of the constitution of Virginia. On January 22, the Arlington County School Board announced that Stratford Junior High would be the first school to be desegregated. On February 2, four black students- Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson and Lance Newman- arrived at Stratford, protected by nearly 100 police officers, hoping to avoid what had happened to the Little Rock Nine.. The desegregation of Stratford, the first public school in Virginia to be desegregated, ultimately passed without incident, and an Anti-Defamation newsletter declared it “The Day Nothing Happened”. With this, Arlington County became the first school system in Virginia to desegregate.[
Arlington’s public schools gradually continued to integrate, although courts only approved of its pupil placement system as being racially neutral in 1971, twelve years after desegregation began. School dances and athletic events were ended in 1959 by the Arlington County School Board after integration began. Athletic events were reinstated in 1961, but school dances were held privately for years afterwards. Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School closed in 1964 and its students were placed in formerly all-white schools. By 1969, all Arlington high schools were desegregated. The only two schools to remain almost completely segregated were Drew Elementary School and Hoffman-Boston Elementary School. In the case John E. Hart et al. v. County School Board of Arlington County, Virginia, parents of Drew Elementary School students sued the Arlington County School Board for further integration. The School Board announced a plan, which the courts approved of, to bus Drew and Hoffman-Boston Elementary School students to other elementary schools around Arlington.
Arlington’s school board was eventually allowed to be democratically elected again, rather than be appointed by the Arlington County Board.
In the wake of the August 2017 Charlottesville Virginia, deadly white supremacy rally protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Arlington County School Board voted unanimously in June 2018 to rename Washington Lee High School to remove Lee’s name, sparking outrage among many in the community.In the months prior to the name change, the Arlington County school board narrowed several options to “Washington-Loving High School”, their top choice in honor of the Loving v. Virginia court case, and “Washington-Liberty High School”. On January 10, 2019, the school board voted unanimously for the latter name.
Reverend Richard Oscar Green , Sr.
Native Arlingtonian , Reverend Richard O. Green attended Northern Virginia and District of Columbia schools.. Green wanted to major in auto mechanics, but the curriculum was not offered at the all black Hoffman Boston High School..
Green’s parents along with the NAACP fought vigorously to get him the education he desired. As a result, he was sent to Manassas Regional High School for The Colored that was founded by Jennie Dean. It was long daily commute and Green never missed a day.
In 1950, after the continuation of a court fight, Green was enrolled in the all-white Washington -Lee high school of Arlington. A teacher was bought in from New York to instruct him only. Years later, Reverend Green became a teacher at Washington-Lee instructing Auto Mechanics.
(Reverend Green is now an associate minister at the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church in South Arlington)
Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr
Congratulations to Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr on receiving The Spirit Of Community Award.
Dr. Taylor always makes himself available to the museum for talks and sharing history with us.