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 Butler’s attorney, John Locke Green requested his name be withdrawn as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar in his continuing opposition to the Poll Tax.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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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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Virginia Fights Back: The September 14, 1957 Ruling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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The Annual Pink Tea

Mount Salvation Ladies Auxiliary Pink Tea

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.

This is me, right behind Rev. James E. Browne (back to camera), in the serving line at a Pink Tea 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.

A beautifully decorated table at the Pink Tea back in the mid-1960’s.

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
Wilma at the Pink Tea. Yes, that’s me. I remember the dress!

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?

Interview: Mr. Sydney Williams

sydney williams
sydney williams
Mr. Sydney Williams

Sydney Remembers Growing Up on Halls Hill

This week a true son of Halls Hill joins us to share remembrances of his family and experiences of the neighborhood. Sydney’s grandfather was Dr. Edward T. Morton, the first African-American physician on Halls Hill. He was a leader in the community and everyone who was in the neighborhood respected him. He even ran for a seat on the County Board!

Listen as Sydney shares his stories.

Let me know what you think about the interview in the comments section. I will be back with additional Halls Hill stories, interviews and more.

My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood

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Interview: Mrs. Mary Scales Koblitz

Wilma Jones interviews Mrs. Mary Scales Koblitz, Nov 2018

Mrs. Mary Scales Koblitz, Halls Hill Elder

I had the honor and pleasure to interview Mrs. Mary Scales Koblitz, a Halls Hill elder who lived on two locations on the ‘Hill prior to moving to South Arlington when her kids were growing up.

She speaks about her memories of Langston Elementary School, lifelong friendships and more. Listen to the interview and comment with her feedback.

More interviews to come. Thanks for being a HallsHill.com visitor!

Celebrating 100 Years of Dedicated Service

halls hill watermelon carving fire station 8

Arlington County’s Fire Station 8 Honored at a Community Gala!

halls hill watermelon carving fire station 8

The John M. Langston Citizen’s Association honored the legacy of the 14 brave African-American men who came together in 1918 to start the Halls Hill Volunteer Fire Department. These men and the others who followed in their footsteps to staff what is now Fire Station 8 deserve our thanks and praise. This event was the community’s way of doing just that.

There is a documentary that will be released in the spring to preserve the history and stories. In the meantime, here are a few pics of the crowd.

Crowd selfie.
Wilma at FS8 100th anniversary gala selfie
Crowd selfie two.
Crowd selfie three.

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The People: Rev. James Eugene Browne, Sr.

Rev. James Eugene Browne, Sr.

The Rev. James Eugene Browne was the assistant pastor of Mount Salvation Baptist Church when Rev. N.R. Richardson was the senior pastor. Rev. Browne and his wife, Hazel initially resided in the Cherrydale community in when they came to Arlington from Texarkana, TX.

Rev. Browne spoke about the racism and influence of the Ku Klux Klan in Cherrydale in the 1930’s in the period when they first came to this area.

James and Hazel Browne Pic 1

The family eventually moved to 2011 North Culpeper Street in the Halls Hill neighborhood. They had two children, Lillian Browne Fernanders and James E. Browne, Jr.

Rev. Browne often told the story of the Halls Hill streets not being paved when they initially moved to the neighborhood. This caused his shoes and pants to be dusty and dirty if he walked to the church. As a result he drove each week, even though Mount Salvation was only a block away.

Rev. Browne led youth groups at Mount Salvation in their activities with the Northern Virginia Baptist Association, taking them on many trips across the state and southeast region for conferences and events. Mrs. Browne was the manager of the Langston elementary school cafeteria for many years, and she also ran the summer playground programs for Arlington Recreation.

Rev. Browne was a former president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association, the neighborhood civic organization on Halls Hill. He was also very active in the Arlington NAACP, serving in leadership roles for many years, including president during the fight for school desegregation in the late 1950’s.

What memories do you have about Rev. and Mrs. Browne from Langston elementary school, Mount Salvation church or just in the neighborhood?