I am excited to announce that after an unexpected delay, the Arlington Independent Media television show, UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington will return to the airwaves later this month.
The next episode features Dr. Alfred O. Taylor, Jr. and Ms. Lydia Jones Cole, who have both recently authored biographies about growing up and living in Black Arlington. As soon as the episode is scheduled, I will update everyone on the email list and via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Dr. Taylor’s second book is, What an Amazing Journey: To God Be the Glory which he will discuss in the episode. Dr. Taylor really does have an amazing story, and I can’t wait for him to share it with you on this episode.
Lydia Jones Cole is my sister and her new book gives you a deeper look into our immediate family, You Must Be a Jones: A Family Memoir during the period when the seven of us kids were growing up. It’s her perspective of life in Black Arlington, and I must say, I really like her book. In the show, she’ll tell us all about why she penned the memoir.
Catch a little of the show in this interview clip below.
The interviews for episodes three and four have been recorded and will be delivered to the skilled editor, TL Wilson before the end of this month. Look for those shows in April and May. I’m back on track with lots more to come in 2021.
I hope you’ll be watching as UNTOLD returns!
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I love to swim. I learned at around six years old at the Baptist Center Camp in Gainesville, VA. My best friend’s uncle was the camp lifeguard. At that age, I was only allowed to visit the camp with my friend when her grandfather came to service the pool on weekends. I naturally “took” to the water and over a few visits in the summer, I learned how to swim.
I recently began to regularly workout at the Arlington Aquatic Centers at the two Arlington high school facilities near my home, Washington-Liberty, and Yorktown. It’s great exercise and it also allows me to have a way to meditate, thereby killing two birds with one stone.
As I counted my sets in the water yesterday evening, I began to think about the fact that I didn’t learn to swim in my hometown of Arlington. Racism and discrimination permeated every facet of Black children’s access to recreation facilities, whether playgrounds, amusement parks, or pony rides. But as I began to read more about our access to pools, I was surprised by the level of hate and violence Black people endured just because they wanted to enjoy a dip in the pool. The effects of this racism endure today.
There was one public pool in Arlington where Black people could swim when I was a child, and that was the Veterans Memorial YMCA Pool in Green Valley. The “Y” opened in 1949. The building had a Community Room where they had dances and showed movies for the neighborhood youth. But because we lived on Halls Hill and didn’t have any relatives in that neighborhood, I only went swimming at the “Y” during Arlington Recreation summer camp day trips.
The first pool in Arlington was opened in 1924 at the Army-Navy Country Club off of South Glebe Road. As Charlie Clark details in his Falls Church News-Press column, Our Man in Arlington, “Arlington’s postwar boom brought subdivision membership associations. Arlington Forest got there first in 1954, with its handsome pool nestled below the Carlin Springs Road. Dominion Hills Pool on Wilson Blvd. wrote its bylaws in 1955 and built on the site of the 19th-century Powhatan Springs. My own Overlee Community Association formed on Lee Highway in 1957.” These private pools did not allow Black people to join when I was a child.
Pools in D.C. provided an alternate option for Black youth to swim. The Negro Recreation Section of Arlington County used to take children to the East Potomac Park swimming pool at Hains Point on day trips in the 1950s. In communities across America, pools were just another example of discrimination that Black people endured just trying to enjoy life.
I was stunned to read about the desegregation of pools being the cause of the first “Race Riot” in Washington, DC! In 1949 after the Anacostia Pool was desegregated Black swimmers were attacked by Whites. The aftermath of these uprisings across the country against Black people trying to swim in pools with White people was described in the book, Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, “millions of white Americans who once swam in public for free began to pay rather than swim for free with Black people; desegregation in the mid-fifties coincided with a surge in backyard pools and members-only swim clubs. In Washington, D.C., for example, 125 new private swim clubs were opened in less than a decade following pool desegregation in 1953
In 1973 Arlington opened its first public pools at the three high schools. It took a long time for the County government to approve the new pool system, and I’m sure in the early years when it was considered, interracial swimming was one reason to delay. I am proud to say I was an employee at W-L pool under the late Don Quesada, the pool manager, for quite a few years as a teenager. Although I didn’t learn to swim in an Arlington pool, I am happy to be able to get my swim on today in the public pool.
Every so often when a blog post gets a lot of traction, I receive messages from people I knew in the past. One interaction with a former elementary school friend was the subject of the blog a few weeks ago. As a result, more people from my past are reaching out to me.
I received one Facebook message from an elementary school classmate. Note, I said a classmate. We weren’t friends, and honestly, I don’t remember her. But she remembered me. After an introductory exchange, she posed a few questions.
My initial reaction was, “I’m not responding to this.” My second thought was to turn the questions around and ask her the same things from my perspective. How did you feel about Black students coming to your school? Was it scary? Why? Were you mad at everyone Black?
Then I took a few breaths and decided that I would answer the questions in my blog. Pre-COVID after speaking engagements people would ask questions like these during the Q&A. And truthfully, since I wrote a book and continue to write about these issues, I decided to share my answers.
How did it make you feel to go to a desegregated school then?
I missed my old school, teachers, staff (my mom was a lunch lady at Langston), and friends who were assigned to different schools. I was not looking forward to attending the new school in any way. I knew I had no choice in the matter. One interesting note was I had to take a bus to school, which was a new experience.
My sisters and brothers had attended Stratford Junior High School with White students following their respective promotions from Langston. I always knew that I would go to school with White students one day. I just did not expect it to be so soon, in second grade.
I didn’t think that attending a White school was going to be better than going to Langston. I knew the books, desks, balls, and art supplies would probably be better because even in the first grade I knew the government always gave Black people the worst version of anything available. But I knew I would miss the feeling of family that we had at Langston, where everyone knew everyone, and many of us were related.
Was it scary?
I don’t remember being scared at all. In my comparison based on what I knew about White people, I didn’t expect it to be more fun or exciting. Everything I personally knew about White people came from television. And at six years old, the family life I saw on tv did not touch the experiences I had at my home. They may have had a bigger house, a color tv, and a community with paved streets and sidewalks. But the home and community life I knew was full of experiences that were never shown on television in those days. Granted, not all of them were good, but that’s true of all homes and neighborhoods.
The way White children played on television didn’t appear to be as much fun as the things my friends and I did. Except for the fact that they could go places that we were not allowed to enter. Parks. Playgrounds. Pools. Movie theaters. But integrated schools weren’t going to change that. I wasn’t going to be able to join the Overlee Community pool. Nor was I going to be able to go swimming at Lake Barcroft.
Allowing 300 Black students to attend five White schools wasn’t really going to change our life for the better. Our neighborhood school, our beloved Langston, now educated kindergartners, both White and Black students. The government wouldn’t let us continue to use the building as a neighborhood school because the White parents didn’t want to send their students to a school in a Black neighborhood. But now white five year olds were sent to the school?! It was another slap in the face to our community by the school board.
Were you mad at everyone who was white?
Why would I be mad at White people?!
From my perspective, it was White people who didn’t like Black people. Initially, I didn’t know any White people to be mad at them.
I was a happy child. I was spoiled by my parents, six siblings, aunts, and uncles. I had a large community of people who thought I was a great kid. I had lots and lots of friends. As a little kid, I lacked nothing because my life was full. The adults in our community made sure that although we couldn’t go everywhere, we had the things that mattered most. So I wasn’t mad at White people, nor did I envy them. I felt like my life was better. They may have had more money. But there were Black people in my community who had more money than my family, so that didn’t mean a lot. After I began to get to know some of the White kids at my school, I knew I didn’t need to be mad at anyone. The type of family I had, I knew everybody didn’t have.
I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t understand now, why people don’t like other people because they are different. My mom told me that “it takes all kinds,” when I would ask her about someone being different. Explaining that God made people different, that no two people ever in existence would be exactly the same.
My perspective as a child was that the government was designed to keep Black people down. To keep us below White people in every way. But I knew that was only because they had power. At six years old, I was well aware of institutional, systemic racism, although it didn’t have a name.
I knew Black people were just like White people and honestly, I thought we were better. I knew we had more style. I thought our music was better. I knew our church services were better. And the more I became exposed to other things created by Black people, I knew that no other group of people was better than us. Then I began to feel like maybe White people wanted to keep us down, because they were afraid that if (when) we came into our own, we could potentially exceed their accomplishments.
What happened to your old school and the teachers who taught there?
The final decision was made to disenfranchise the Black students and the Halls Hill community. In June 1966, Langston was closed as a neighborhood elementary school. Proposal 6 was approved. The 300 students were transferred to five White elementary schools. This was because the School Board succumbed to pressure from White parents concerned about Black children comprising the majority of students at any of the previously Whites-only schools. The School Board made sure that Black children would not exceed 35 percent of the school population.
The Halls Hill community was denied a neighborhood school, unlike every other established Arlington community. However, the School Board assigned kindergarten classes to the Langston building – both White and Black children! That decision was an insult to the Halls Hill community. And as my old elementary school friend, King Prather’s message advised, the influence of two Black males teachers in elementary school impacted him greatly. How many White children could have been positively impacted by the influence of the Langston teachers and administrators?
One of my favorite poems about Black people, our families, and community perspective is Nikki-Rosa by Nikki Giovanni. It speaks so clearly of the opinion of many Black people who grew up in segregated neighborhoods in America. The opening and closing stanzas are:
Childhood remembrances are always a drag
If you’re Black
You always remember things like living in Woodlawn
With no inside toilet
And if you become famous or something
They never talk about how happy you were to have
All to yourself…
…And I really hope no white person ever has cause
To write about me
Because they never understand
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll
Probably talk about my hard childhood
And never understand that
All the while I was quite happy
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