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What is Best for the Children

But Only When the Children are White

Listen to “What Is Best for the Children.”

I entered the segregated Langston Elementary School as a kindergartner in September 1964 in Miss Green’s class. As a child, I was completely unaware of the battle the adults in our community were engaged in with the Arlington County School Board. Our parents, the John M. Langston Citizens Association, the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, and the local Congress of Racial Equality were all working to convince the School Board to have Langston remain a neighborhood school.

There were discussions and proposals throughout the next two years to determine what would happen to the students and the school building once segregation of Black and White children was scheduled to end. The School Board feared that White parents would not want their children to attend the school in the Black community. This was despite the fact that the Halls Hill neighborhood was surrounded by White communities. Many of the White children who would be assigned to Langston lived only a few blocks from the school.

The proposed plan that would have kept the Langston Elementary School as a neighborhood school following integration. This planned was not approved.

This plan described in the article above would have bussed far fewer students than “Plan 6,” one of the previously proposed plans. However, many of the parents of the White children preferred “Plan 6.” The School Board “made it clear” that race was not to be considered but that was an obvious falsehood.

It had been well-documented that school boundaries for Langston were gerrymandered to segregate the races at the school. The School Board was taking heat for the way they were addressing the integration of the three segregated elementary schools, as documented by multiple newspaper articles, one of which is excerpted below.

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?

On the Arlington Public Schools website the information about Langston is not included in the history of desegregation of schools.

In my experience, I have found that the Arlington County School Board has rarely (if ever) made a boundary decision that favors Black, POC, or poor children over the middle and upper-class White majority. Unfortunately, this record continues today.

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We Have to Wrestle Our Demons in the Daylight

How Do We Confront the Racism of Our Nation’s Past?

Listen to the blog post – “We Have to Wrestle Our Demons in the Daylight”

I attended segregated Langston Elementary School in the Halls Hill neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia for kindergarten and first grade. In June 1966, Langston was closed. All of the students were divided by address and forced to attend five white schools, to ensure that the percentage of Black students would not exceed 35 percent of the student population at any of the schools.

I was enrolled at Walter Reed Elementary School and began second grade in Miss Harmony’s class. I was one of four or five Black students from Langston in the class of about 25 students. In Arlington County, third-grade students were tested for admittance into the talented and gifted program, called “Seminar.” To the school administration’s surprise, two Black students at Reed would be among the 24 Seminar students in the upcoming fourth-grade class. By fifth grade, the School Board cut the budget. The funding would support only 12 students and I was to be the lone Black Seminar student. Trust that there was a lot of communication between the school and parents because there was a major effort to keep Black students out of these programs. Unfortunately for the school, my parents were well versed in the strategies used to delay and deny Black students their rightful accommodations, and I remained in the program.

I knew that many of my fellow students were racists. I knew many grew up in racist households and that their parents did not want us in class together. I didn’t know any White children before I started school at Reed. I developed a friendship with one White girl in elementary school. We were in Seminar classes together for all three years. She was Jewish and her mom had earned a graduate degree at Howard University. For most of the other White kids, I am sure the Halls Hill kids were the first Black people they had interacted with at that level in their lives.

I have since reconnected with many of my fellow classmates from high school on Facebook. Very few from elementary school. A few years ago, my White friend from Reed school reached out. It’s been great to re-establish our friendship and meet each other’s children.

After I published My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood, I heard from a lot of my old classmates. They gave me feedback and discussed their thoughts of those old times. But most of the interactions were not deep exchanges. I often wondered after those exchanges what they really thought and experienced during those times.

On Thursday, June 25, 2020, I received a Facebook message that let me know my book was bringing back thoughts for an old classmate. He wasn’t afraid to address his family history and have courageous communication with me about how the book impacted his perspective.

You may or may not remember me, although I am cursed with a memorable name.  We met when we spent time in school together in Mr. Marsh’s and Mrs. Scharff’s classes at Reed elementary.   I remember you as curious, and very confident. I also remember that you were very fast.  Funny the things we remember.  

Last week I read your wonderfully personal book about Halls Hill.  I was envious of the familial feel you described, the sense of community.  I was proud that you were describing a neighborhood in my hometown.  I lived in Woodlawn at 14th and Buchanan.  Through your eyes I was able to see what I had missed growing up.  Four blocks away, on the other side of the wall, my perspective was different.  My perspective was mis-informed.

I should tell you that I hovered over the purchase button for your book a few months ago.  Sometimes I don’t know why I act or procrastinate, but this time it is clear.  George Floyd sent me back to buy the book.  And he sent me to you because our paths crossed way back when.  Black lives matter.

Whoa! I was like, what the what?! Needless to say, I was shocked.

He goes on to explain the disconnect in his elementary school mind, of the things he heard from his Alabama relatives about Black people, compared to the experiences he had in his classroom in Arlington, Virginia. And based on his experiences with Mr. Marsh, our Black male fifth-grade teacher.

Although my parents were very rarely overtly racist, I never recall speaking about differences. I do recall being exposed to overt racism when visiting extended family.   Our vacations in Alabama were littered with relatives who laughed at dropping fireworks into the bathroom stalls when the rest rooms were integrated, or who taught their dogs to bark at the N word.  Really.  

I do recall trying to square the impression I was getting from this environment that blacks were inferior with the experiences I was having that would tend to indicate otherwise.  As a traveling PE teacher, Coach Willie Jones was assigned to Woodlawn as well.  I remember him encouraging me with my sprinting form.  I also remember his “no cuttin’ up” rules, applied equally to black and white kids. He was a good role model.   Hank Aaron was my baseball hero.  I recalling being sad when I read about the death threats and ugly notes he received while chasing Babe Ruth.  Mr. Marsh was a hero.

These are the tough conversations that are starting to happen with more frequency. I am happy that my book helped to drive this dialogue with my old elementary school friend, N. King Prather as he confronts his past with his present and the efforts he is making to be anti-racist in his village in North Carolina today.

Fast forward……..Throughout my professional career, I worked with my employers on diversity efforts.  Today I am working on Governor Cooper’s DRIVE Task Force here in North Carolina in an effort to increase the number of minorities teaching in the classroom.  Life has taught me the invaluable advantages of diversity, and the reality of systemic racism in so many areas that remain impactful today.  I also believe that we all owe a contribution to the community woodpile.  It takes a village.

Today, King sent me a link to an article published on WRAL.com, We are all ancestors of ourselves where he states, “Black lives matter. Justice is a process, not an outcome. Silence is complicity.” I am proud that the “rambling letter” he sent to me last summer was the beginning of the thoughts that became this article.

As I wrote to King this morning, “I think it’s through this type of introspection…that real change in this country will finally happen.” And he responded, “We have to wrestle our demons in the daylight.” Well said, my friend.

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Arlington’s Black Neighborhoods in 1900

Arlington history tells the story of how the suburb’s Black neighborhoods developed under segregation and Jim Crow discrimination. I have been researching Arlington’s segregation walls for a project and the institutional racism the Black community faced beginning in the late 1800s was successful in its goal to rid the community of Black residents. At the turn of the 20th century, Black people comprised over 35 percent of Arlington County’s population. Today, we number less than 9 percent of the community.

There are two researchers whose work was very helpful in looking into the development of Arlington’s Black communities. One was Built By the People Themselves – African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia, from the Civil War through Civil Rights, a dissertation by Lindsey Bestebreurtje. The other was Nancy Perry, who focused her dissertation on the geographical aspects of segregation for the African American community in Arlington, VA

I was aware of Freedman’s Village, started by the federal government in 1863 for formerly enslaved Black people. The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington has information online and a physical Freedman’s Village exhibit. And I knew about the efforts to disenfranchise the residents from the 1880s until the closing of the community in 1900. Black residents were not given fair compensation for their properties and businesses. Many relocated to other Black communities in Arlington, especially Green Valley and Johnson’s Hill.

As you can see in the map above, in 1900 there were 12 Black neighborhoods or enclaves in Arlington. The largest Black neighborhood, Green Valley has its roots in 1844 when it was inhabited by free Black people. East Arlington was a large Black community that was boded by Queen City, both established not far from Freedman’s Village by former residents. Both those neighborhoods were taken by the government, and once again residents were not fairly compensated for their property.

Only the Hall’s Hill-High View Park, Johnson’s Hill – Arlington View, and Green Valley communities exist as historically Black neighborhoods, although they are all greatly gentrified.

There is so much more Black history to share on these lost Black neighborhoods. More to come in next week’s post.

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Update on UNTOLD TV Show

Coming Soon to Arlington Independent Media

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

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Halls Hill Resident Fights Virginia’s Poll Tax to the U.S Supreme Court

Mrs. Jessie Butler Refuses to Back Down

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.

As the Encyclopedia of Virginia notes, the “State Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 met for the express purpose of disfranchising as many African American voters as possible [and they] reinstituted the poll tax as a prerequisite for voter registration.” 

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

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Iconic Arlington Educator: Mrs. Elizabeth Snyder Hill

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.

The program cover.

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’s biography.

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.

Businesses that contributed toward the event as advertisers.

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.

More advertiser/business patrons.

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 program.

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.

The Langston School staff and the people responsible for the program.

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.

My mom, Mrs. Idabel G. Jones, Mrs. Eunice Carter, and Mrs. Hazel Browne. See Fire Station 8 in the background.
Another ad page in the program.

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.

Chinn Funeral Home purchased a full page ad.
Another page of ads in the program.

The Citizens Association and the Mount Salvation Baptist Church ads along with a beauty salon purchased ads for this important community event.

Calloway’s full page ad was the final page of the program.

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.

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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Arlington High School Choices in 1957

Separate and So Unequal

Arlington High School Choices in 1957 – audio recording

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

DISTRIBUTIVE EDUCATION 

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.

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhoood

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Halls Hill Resident Runs for County Board

Dr. Edward T. Morton Ran in 1931

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. and Mrs. Edward T. Morton on the porch of their home at 4842 Lee Highway

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.

Check out Dr. Morton’s grandson, Sydney Williams interview.

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.

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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About Wilma Jones
About Wilma Jones

Wilma Jones is an author, speaker and the CEO of Wilma J, LLC, a business consulting company. Wilma teaches people the tools to develop a positive mindset in order to accomplish more both professionally and personally. She’s dynamic, funny, insightful and for real.

About HallsHill.com

HallsHill.com is a virtual space for people who want to reminisce, connect, collaborate, share and smile as they read, see and experience the magic of the Halls Hill neighborhood. The book, My Halls Hill Family centers on my family and our experience on Halls Hill from the early 1900’s through the 1960’s. Halls Hill really was more than a neighborhood.

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