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!
Buy My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood at AMAZON!
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
Buy My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood at AMAZON!
How Do We Confront the Racism of Our Nation’s Past?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Ladies Auxiliary to the Trustee Board’s Annual Pink Tea
Let’s go back in history a bit in the Black Church in America. Back in the day. Especially in the South. Before women preachers in the pulpit. Before women were appointed to the Trustee Board. Remember back when there was the Ladies Auxiliary to the Trustee Board?
Well, if you lived on Halls Hill in the 1950’s and 60’s the Ladies Auxiliary at Mount Salvation Baptist Church was that organization. And you may not have remembered the group, but you never forgot their annual fundraiser, The Pink Tea!
Every year in the spring in the Langston Elementary School Multipurpose Room, the ladies of the Mount Salvation Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary to the Trustee Board would show off and show out! They beautifully decorated the room, and presented tables full of delectable finger foods and appetizers to enjoy. The auxiliary members formed teams or groups to plan their menus and work to make their table the best of the event.
I absolutely LOVED the Pink tea. I looked forward to the event every year. My mom, Idabel Jones teamed with her two best friends, Patience Spriggs and Rosa Hyson (known as our Aunts Pat and RoRo) to make their best recipes every year. Rev. James Browne, was like an unofficial judge, and all the kids would see what he had on his plate because all the ladies wanted him to taste their food. At least that’s the way I remember it.
It wasn’t just a “church event.” It was a neighborhood event. It didn’t matter what church you attended, or if you even went to church. Folks attended and supported because that’s was the way of our community.
As I described in the book,
“The churches on Halls Hill thrived in the 1960s. Mount Salvation was under the longtime pastoral leadership of Rev. Richardson, and the sanctuary was packed every Sunday. New ideas and events to raise money and keep the church flourishing were implemented by men, women, and the youth leadership. One of the women’s events was an annual pink tea. Groups of women would partner and develop a “table menu,” with each woman cooking a “tea-worthy” delicacy for the afternoon. It was held in the multi- purpose room of Langston. My mom was involved, along with all the other women of the church. The room was decorated beauti- fully, with multiple shades of pink with cream or white. Guests used cocktail plates to taste the flavors offered on each table.
Although there wasn’t an official winner determined, the women who prepared the best-tasting dishes were easy to spot, as their food was on everyone’s plates!”
My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood
I don’t think I ever missed a year at the Pink Tea when we were church members there. Those events are wonderful memories from my Halls Hill childhood.
Do you have memories of the Mount Salvation Baptist Church Ladies Auxiliary to the Trustee Board’s Annual Pink Tea?