I’m pretty much a “blue sky” kinda person. I try to see the positive in everything. Most of the time. And sometimes that means that I am a little more optimistic than realistic about my target timelines for meeting goals and objectives. This time I missed the mark.
My goal to debut the new TV show, UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington in mid-September was a little too aggressive. I couldn’t get everything completed in time. There was required training to be authorized to produce the show. I needed to complete preshow research. Secure guests. And then develop the production, review with my supervising producer, and secure an editor. Although I thought I could accomplish everything in four weeks, it took twice that time frame.
Although I am a little tardy, I am thrilled to announce that we are scheduled to tape the first episode tomorrow, October 5th! Our show topics this first season include revealing information on a little known division of the Arlington Recreation Department known as the Negro Recreation Section. We’ll expose perspectives about attending and teaching in segregated schools. And we’ll learn what it took to build, grow, and pass on a business to the next generation, despite barriers, discrimination, and institutional racism, from Black businessmen who did just that in Arlington.
I am hopeful everything goes well tomorrow to kick off the taping. We have an exciting schedule planned for 15 episodes in season one. I don’t have the entire season nailed down in stone yet, so if you have ideas, send them to me! Please email me at Wilma@WilmaJ.com.
I will update everyone on when we have a confirmed date for the premiere of the first episode. Thank you for all your support!
Read more Halls Hill history in My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood
The poll tax in Virginia originated when it was still a colony int he first meeting of the General Assembly in 1619. At that time it was not a prerequisite for voting, that was not instituted until 1876 when the state constitution was amended.
In 1950 Mrs. Jessie Butler, a resident of Halls Hill, began a fight to eliminate the requirement for payment of the poll tax. It began in Federal Court where the state attorney general attempted to have the case dismissed. Note they tried to blame the low number of Negro residents who have registered due the the “shifting population.”
Mrs. Butler then filed another lawsuit against the Arlington County Registrar and other officials who prevented her from voting because she failed to pay the poll tax. In the original case, Mrs. Butler was unsuccessful with the federal judges in Alexandria. Undeterred, she decided to appeal her case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The appeal failed when the court upheld the Virginia Poll tax.
Mrs. Butler’s attorney, John Locke Green requested his name be withdrawn as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar in his continuing opposition to the Poll Tax. In March 1966, fifteen years after Mrs. Butler’s appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled the Virginia Poll Tax unconstitutional in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.
Read more Halls Hill history in My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood
Principal and Teacher at Langston School from 1922-1961
Mrs. Elizabeth Snyder Hill was an icon as a teacher at Langston. She began teaching on Halls Hill at the Sumner School in 1922, three years before the Langston School building opened. On Friday, May 19, 1961, she was honored by the Halls Hill community for her 39 years of dedicated service. This week I am going to share the program from that event, which is just one of the many items my mom, Idabel G. Jones saved from events in the Halls Hill community over the years.
You can see that Mr. James H. Brown was president of the Langston Elementary School Parent Teacher Association and my mom’s best friend, Mrs. Patience Spriggs (there is a typo on the cover) was the chairman of the event.
Mrs. Hill was a teacher for hundreds of Halls Hill children during her career, including both my parents and many of my siblings. And of course, Mrs. Hill was a graduate of an HBCU (Historically Black College and University), Howard University. She also received a Master’s Degree from New York University. The teachers at the segregated schools were excellent, and Mrs. Hill was one of the staff that set the standard, according to all the stories I have heard. She also was quite firm in the manner in which she managed her classes, and the school during the years she was principal.
Mrs. Faggins and the members of the Crescent Club were all Halls Hill residents. You can see that Prestons’ Pharmacy was a supporter of Halls Hill almost 60 years ago. This page and the ones that follow show the community supporters and organizations that contributed toward the event and were obviously a big part of the Halls Hill community.
This page has the local eye doctor and Mr. Vance Green’s barber shop, which still stands, today it’s where Rick’s Tattoo Shop is located. Mr. Green lived on North 19th Road. The other advertiser is Rev. James E. Browne, Sr. who was an electrician, as well as the assistant pastor at Mount Salvation Baptist Church. Rev. Browne and his family lived next to Langston School on Culpeper street.
The people involved in the program are not well known from a community perspective except for Mr. James H. Brown speaking for the PTA. This Mr. James Brown, without the “e” lived with his family on 22nd street. And Mr. Alfred Clark, the captain of Fire Station 8 was also the president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association at that time.
OK, lots of familiar names here. There are some typos, like Mr. Gravitt, not Granitt. But I remember almost every person listed on this page. And one of them is my mom, Idabel Jones, the assistant dietician, working under Rev. Browne’s wife, Mrs. Hazel Browne. And rounding out the kitchen staff is Mrs. Eunice Carter. Rev. Browne took a pic of them after the finished the lunch shift one day outside the multipurpose room door of the school.
I don’t know who the “Two Physicians,” are but I am assuming it’s Drs. Harold Johnson and Oscar Ellison, Jr., the two Black doctors serving the Halls Hill and Falls Church areas. The Modern Beauty-Barber Shop was familiar to my family because Mrs. Adele Williams and her family were close friends of our family.
The Citizens Association and the Mount Salvation Baptist Church ads along with a beauty salon purchased ads for this important community event.
Mrs. Hill was much loved by the Halls Hill community. I know my mom was truly touched by her influence as she saved this program in almost perfect condition since 1961 until her death in 2017. We discovered the program in her papers and I am so happy to share it with all of you today. I know there are many people who read the blog who may remember her.
Arlington in 2020 is a progressive community. I have frequent conversations about how far we have come as a society since the days of Jim Crow, Massive Resistance, and the inception of institutional racism. But what I have discovered is that many people don’t know the truth. The details. The day-to-day choices and challenges Black people dealt with every day.
In this season of our children returning to school, I went back to review the choices Arlington high school students had in the fall of 1957. The U.S Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that public schools should be desegregated, but the County and Commonwealth were engaged in lengthy, costly, and ultimately, unsuccessful efforts to continue the segregation of Black and white schoolchildren. Virginia intended to sustain separate, but equal schools, despite the federal government’s decision. But just a quick review of the course offerings at Washington-Lee versus Hoffman-Boston high schools made it clear how unequal the choices were for Black students. See below for the course listings for both schools from the archives of the Library of Virginia.
COURSES OFFERED AT WASHINGTON-LEE HIGH SCHOOL 1957-58 SCHOOL YEAR
ART Applied Design I Applied Design II General Art I General Art II General Art III
BUSINESS Bookkeeping I Bookkeeping II Commercial Law Shorthand I Shorthand II Typing I Typing II Business Machines Commercial Arithmetic Vocational Office Training
ENGLISH English II English III English IV Advanced Composition Speech Drama Journalism
HEALTH & PHYSICAL EDUCATION Health and PE II Health and PE III Driver Training
HOME ECONOMICS Home Ec. I Home Ec. II Home Ec. III Home Ec. Special Foods Clothing
INDUSTRIAL ARTS Electric Fundamentals Radio Theory and Repairs II TV & Repairs Auto Mechanics Transportation Shop General Metals Mechanic Drawing I Mechanical Drawing II & III Advanced Machine Woodworking General Cabinet & Graphic Arts Graphic Arts
LANGUAGE Latin I Latin II Latin III & IV Combined French I French II French III & IV Separated German I German II Spanish I Spanish II Spanish III & IV Combined
MATHEMATICS General Math Vocational Math Algebra I Algebra II Plane Geometry Accelerated Algebra- Solid Geometry Solid Geometry- Trigonometry Trigonometry- College Algebra
MUSIC Choir Madrigals Mixed Chorus Girls’ Chorus Music Appreciation Music Theory Orchestra Band Workshop Band
SCIENCE Biology Physics Chemistry
SOCIAL STUDIES Virginia & U.S. History Virginia & U.S. Government Psychology World History World Geography Economics
COURSES OFFERED AT HOFFMAN-BOSTON HIGH SCHOOL 1957-58 SCHOOL YEAR
ART Basic Art I Basic Art II
BUSINESS Commercial Arithmetic Typing I Typing II Shorthand I Commercial Practice & Business Machines
ENGLISH English II English III English IV
FOREIGN LANGUAGES French I French II
Health & Physical Education
HOMEMAKING EDUCATION Homemaking I Homemaking II Homemaking III
INDUSTRIAL ARTS General Cabinet Making & Graphic Arts Industrial Arts Lab for Girls Mechanical Drawing I Transportation Auto Mechanics Woodworking Laboratory
MUSIC Choral Music Girls’ Choir Mixed Chorus
INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC Concert Band Orchestra
SCIENCE Biology Chemistry
SOCIAL STUDIES World History U.S. & Virginia History
SPEECH General SpeechTherapy in Speech is available
I read during my research that the only reason Hoffman-Boston offered any Foreign Language at this time was because one of the English teachers had the ability to teach both languages, so the course was made available to the students.
The fact that the government would continue to try to pursue in federal court that this treatment of Black students was fair just shows the extent of institutional racism. It’s very clear from these lists that Black students were not offered the same educational opportunities as white students.
Unfortunately, there are still unequal circumstances existing in Arlington County Public Schools. There are schools in North Arlington becoming even more segregated with the latest school boundary changes. A critical program for children with IEPs is offered at some Arlington elementary schools but not at Drew Elementary School, a school that serves a large contingent of Black and Brown children and has been consistently disenfranchised by the Arlington Public School leadership and the School Board for decades. We have much more work to do to achieve equity among students in our public schools.
There has been a lot of discussion over the past month regarding how Arlington County elects its government. The Virginia General Assembly approved a Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) proposed bill creating an option for “ranked choice” in voting legislation. The Arlington Civic Federation is standing up a committee to explore the Arlington Form of Government. I was recently interviewed about my perspective on this issue. It had me thinking about the only Halls Hill resident I am aware of that ran for Arlington County Board, Dr. Edward T. Morton.
Dr. Morton caused quite a stir in Arlington when he made the decision to run for elected office as a County Board candidate in 1931. A Black person had not previously run for elected office since 1903, per a Washington Post article that reported on Dr. Morton’s candidacy.
Note that this election was the first under a “new form of County Government.” Unfortunately, Dr. Morton was not elected to the County Board. To my knowledge, we have had three Black County Board members since 1932, William T. Newman (the first elected Black County Board member in 1987), Charles P. Monroe, and Christian Dorsey. And to my knowledge, only one Latinx County Board member has ever been elected, J. Walter Tejada.
I certainly think it is time to look at the way our County Board and School Board members are elected. You would expect there to be more diversity among our County leaders so the leadership more closely resembles the community they govern.
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.
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
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.
The fight to desegregate Virginia Public Schools in the years following the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Boardruling 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!