Change the Name?!

A Lee Highway Sign
Audio of “Change the Name” blog post

Arlington Moves Forward to Change the Name of Lee Highway

In July the Arlington County Board gave its “blessing,” to the Lee Highway Alliance to establish a working group to develop a list of potential names for the Board to consider to rename the highway. As a community activist in Arlington for almost 30 years, and a member of the Lee Highway Alliance, I have been asked, and I’ve agreed to participate in the working group.

Waiting to start the interview.

Today I was one of the participants in the production of a video discussing the history and impact of Lee Highway to people who live or have lived near Lee Highway. It was an opportunity to share the perspective of this highway that was called “Falls Church Road,” before the racist leaders in control of state government transportation departments decided to rename the road. Like many other roads, as well as buildings, monuments, and bridges Lee Highway was named in honor of the loser president of The Confederate States of America (CSA). In case you’re unaware, the CSA was a collection of 11 states that seceded from the United States in 1860 following the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Then they lost the Civil War.

Interestingly enough, these Confederate names were adopted many years after the end of the Civil War. Why? Well, History.com names it clearly, “white backlash.” From the website, “Why do schools have these names in the first place? Some received their Confederate names between 1900 and the 1920s, when Jim Crow laws segregated the south and Confederate monument construction in the country peaked. Others came much later. Of the 100 schools that retain Confederate names, at least 32 were built or dedicated between 1950 and 1970 amid white backlash to Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”

I have had a few folks give me suggestions for new names. But I am going into the process with an open mind. As open as a 61 year old Black woman can have about a road that has been a part of my life forever. First memories of good stuff at Langston Elementary School and Fire Station 8. Not so pleasant memories being followed by Miss Dottie at Robertson’s 5 and 10 Store every Saturday when I went to purchase a bat and ball, a set of jacks, or a deck of Old Maid Playing Cards. But there were far more good experiences than bad. Going to High’s to get ice cream. To Mrs. Adele’s to get my hair pressed for Sunday service.

But what about Lee Highway now? What do you think about the renaming? What name do you think the Working Group should consider proposing to the County Board?

Coming in September: UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington

On Arlington Independent Media – Verizon, Comcast, and Streaming on the web.
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The History of Langston School: By Nellie C. Stewart

I found this account by Mrs. Nellie C. Stewart written back in the 1960s of the history of Langston School in my mom’s papers. I thought I would share it because it has details that are not common knowledge. One item of interest is that Lee Highway used to be called, “Falls Church Road.” There is also more detail about the school that preceded the Sumner School. I had no idea there was a school in a place called the “Wonder House.” Rather than paraphrasing Mrs. Stewart’s history, I decided to let you read it (or click below to listen to the audio) for yourself.

Quite interesting!

The History of Langston School: By Nellie C. Stewart

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Virginia Fights Back: The September 14, 1957 Ruling

Audio: Virginia Fights Back: The September 14, 1957 Ruling

The fight to desegregate Virginia Public Schools in the years following the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board ruling was full of intimidation and institutional racism. The government did everything possible to deny Black children an equal education in separate facilities, and definitely not in schools with white children.

Recently I was contacted by Bob Gibson, a writer for the Roanoke Times and the Charlottesville Daily Progress newspapers. (Bob is also communications director and senior researcher at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.) Bob grew up in Arlington, near the Ballston area and he recently read, “My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood.” He wrote an opinion column in both papers about the book. One event he highlighted speaks to the level of governmental institutional racism that Black people endured while fighting for equal education in the 1950’s.

As Gibson informs in his article, “Jones writes the state of Virginia used its own forms of intimidation as it tried to keep the neighborhood’s residents out of all-white public schools. A state legislative committee just days after the cross burning summoned the author’s mother, Idabel Greene Jones, to appear and answer questions before the Committee on Law Reform and Racial Activities.”

Following the January 31, 1957 court ruling that elementary schools in Virginia must desegregate by September, the Virginia legislature acted in special session to create laws to fight pubic school integration. They were basically laws to intimidate and criminalize the activities of Virginians pursuing the desegregation of schools.

The incident that Gibson recounts is following the Saturday, September 14, 1957, federal court ruling on the Arlington case when a supplemental decree directed the admission of the plaintiffs to white schools. The order was immediately delayed until the state could appeal, but the racists, both within and external to the government were upset! The following day, Sunday, September 15, 1957, the Committee on Law Reform and Racial Activities summoned my mother, Idabel Greene Jones, and others, to appear before the committee on Thursday, September 19th. As you can see from the picture of the summons below, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office received the summons on Monday, September 16, 1957, at 11:24 AM. They served my mom that same day.

My siblings and I discovered the original typewritten summons in my mom’s papers after she died in 2017.

That was a tough day for my mother, who was a 35-year-old wife and mother of six children. She did not seek the limelight and was scared and intimidated by the television cameras and reporters who pursued them at the state capitol building. But she had been prepared by the NAACP attorneys and she did what she had to do.

There were a few parents who decided to withdraw from the lawsuit during that time, but the overwhelming consensus for the majority of the group was to proceed further to achieve their goal. Of course, it would be two more years before the desegregation of schools would begin in Virginia in February 1959.

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This Week in Halls Hill History: The Origin of Langston School

Audio: The Origin of Langston School

In 1924 children in the segregated Halls Hill neighborhood of Arlington County attended the Sumner School on north Culpeper street. It was a one-story frame building with two classrooms and one office. It was severely overcrowded and chronically underfunded. I was unable to determine when the Sumner School opened but in 1913 the principal was Mr. L.C Baltimore, and the two teachers were Mrs. E. B. Holmes and Miss B.V. Thomas.

It was well known that segregated schools in Virginia and the other former Confederate states did not provide a decent education for Black students. This was true in Arlington, where Black schools received only hand-me-down books and supplies from white schools. The facilities were woefully undersized. Residents of Halls Hill had requested a new school building from the County government for years before 1920 with no progress.

A collaboration between Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald created the project to build “Rosenwald Schools,” to educate Black students to attempt to allay the chronic underfunding of schools in the Southern states. Booker T. Washington was an educator and philanthropist, and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute. Julius Rosenwald was a clothier who became a part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck, and Company. Their collaboration required both the Black community and the white local government to contribute to funding the school construction. The local school board was required to operate and maintain the schools. Almost 5,000 schools were built in the former Confederate states and Maryland, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Missouri. These schools educated almost one-third of black students in the country.

As noted in Wikipedia, “The school building program was one of the largest programs administered by the Rosenwald Fund. Using state-of-the-art architectural plans designed by professors at Tuskegee Institute, the fund spent more than four million dollars to build 4,977 schools, 217 teacher homes, and 163 shop buildings in 883 counties in 15 states, from Maryland to Texas. The Rosenwald Fund was based on a system of matching grants, requiring white school boards to commit to maintenance and black communities to aid in construction.”

The Halls Hill community took advantage of the collaboration and the Rosenwald Fund opportunity. They raised $500 to contribute toward the construction of an elementary school. The project was approved for funding after the Arlington County School Board agreed to contribute toward the construction of the building. The local school board consented to operate and maintain the facility. The Washington Post archives screenshots below report that 96 years ago this week, on Friday, August 15, 1924, the Arlington County school district opened bids for the construction of the building.

On Sunday, November 8, 1925, only 451 days later, the school was dedicated and subsequently opened to the community’s children. My dad was one of the proud first graders to enter the building that first day. The Washington Post’s Arlington Bureau reported on the dedication as seen in the screenshot below.


Screenshot from the Washington Post Archives.

As described in an excerpt from my book, My Halls Hill Family, “More than 1,000 people attended the installation of the cornerstone for the new school, to be named John M. Langston School after the abolitionist, attorney, educator, activist, diplomat, and politician who was the first dean of Howard University Law School. The Grand Order of Odd Fellows Hopewell Lodge No. 1700 laid the stone. The lodge was a prominent membership organization on Halls Hill. Led by Moses Jackson, George H. Hyson, Shirley Snowden, Joseph Bolden, and Horace Shelton, in August 1888, they purchased a one-acre parcel of land on Halls Hill from Basil Hall to build their lodge’s hall.”

Black residents of Arlington neighborhoods worked hard to advocate for themselves and their communities, despite Jim Crow racism and discrimination in Virginia. The importance of Langston, (even though it’s been rebuilt), to the High View Park -Halls Hill community is based on the deep roots of the institution and it’s almost 100 years of history.

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Coming Soon on TV: “UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington”

AUDIO – Coming Soon on TV: “UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington”

I published my third book, “My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood,” on October 25, 2018. Since that time, I’ve keynoted events, spoken to over a hundred groups, been interviewed on radio shows and podcasts, presented at Zoom meetings and workshops for schools, churches, and organizations all over Arlington and the DMV. I am thankful and grateful for the positive reception and continuing invitations to share the history and legacy of the experiences of Black people in Arlington.

I’ve been a civic activist and community leader in Arlington for almost 30 years in the Halls Hill – High View Park neighborhood. I’m the fourth generation of my family to live on Halls Hill and I am proud of the contributions our community made to help Arlington become what it is today.

However, I was totally surprised when I was asked to consider developing and hosting a television show for Arlington Independent Media! After thinking about it, I decided to go for it. One of my goals for writing the book was to tell the stories of the Arlington Black community. I wanted to help ensure that our history won’t die with the fierce gentrification happening in Arlington. I believe that doing the TV show will be an opportunity to expand that goal and reach more people to expose them to the history and stories of Black Arlington. So get ready for “UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington.”

Let’s be real, I know a lot, but I don’t know all the stories, especially those of Green Valley, Johnson’s Hill, Hatsville, Freedman’s Village, Queenstown, PelhamTown, and other communities less well-known. I will be researching and exploring at the Arlington Center for Local History and the Library of Virginia. I’ve already reached out to the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington’s leader, Scott Taylor to gain his support for this endeavor. And of course, I am reaching out to those who are wiser in the specific story areas we will share to provide knowledge, assistance, and probably to be a show guest, too. I am also open to suggestions for show topics from viewers.

The plan is to start taping shows this month via Zoom, due to the pandemic. If you live in Arlington you’ll be able to view the show on Comcast channel 69 or Verizon channel 38. If you live outside Arlington, you can stream the show live on the Arlington Independent Media website, and I hope it will be archived on the station’s YouTube channel, although that is not confirmed.

We will have a time slot soon so make sure you’re on the email list. Stay updated on the latest information as we progress to the premiere of our first show. I am excited, a little nervous, humbled, and overwhelmed in a good way with everything that is happening. Please send prayers and good wishes for the success of the show!

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