I am getting ready for new interview projects on an NPR show and I am super-excited. I was asked to provide a roundup of any interviews or articles on my work to spread Halls Hill history and related projects since my book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood was published in late 2018. I decided to share this list of highlights with my website family. I hope you can check them out if you’re unfamiliar.
Stay tuned for more information about the upcoming interview right here on HallsHill.com!
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.
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.
Lee Highway is Extended from Halls Hill to Falls Church
I interviewed my dad in 2012 about life on Halls Hill as he remembered it as a young child. One of the things he explained was a big deal was the extension of Lee Highway from Halls Hill to Falls Church. Although he was only around 5 years old, looking back he remembered that for the first time people could drive cars to what was then a pretty rural area.
Prior to the highway extension most people traveled by horse to Falls Church, the Chesterbrook area of McLean, and the what is now the Tyson’s Corner area. When 40 residents of Falls Church endorsed the $40,000 bank loans (from two Georgetown banks) for the state to extend the road, it was proof of how important increasing access to the community was for it’s future growth and relative importance in the area. Arlington paid the interest on the loan.
Lee Highway had been extended from Cherrydale to Halls Hill many years before, making the allowing the neighborhood to thrive from a population growth and for entrepreneurs operating businesses on the Highway. The road was eighteen feet wide with one lane in either direction. It was extended 1.5 miles from Halls Hill to Falls Church. The work was completed on December 23, 1923 but the road was not opened for use until January 14, 1924.
It was during this period that Halls Hill and the route to the community via Lee HIghway became important for the safety of African Americans. Sometimes when traveling from DC to Halls Hill, African Americans were concerned because of the thriving Klu Klux Klan organization in Cherrydale. Many people experienced whites chasing them via car through the Cherrydale area, with taunts and threats of violence for passing through their community, especially after dark. But once the chase reached Culpeper Street, (the only way in or out of Halls Hill at the time) and Fire Station 8, they were safe.
Halls Hill was inhabited by former slaves and some free black people following the Civil War. Although black people who were slaves in captured Union territory became free after the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Lincoln in 1863.
Halls Hill was known as “Halls Plantation,” prior to the Civil War. Halls Hill was named for its location—a high hill in what had initially been Alexandria County—and the original property owner, Basil (also spelled Bazil, in some writings) Hall. Hall, a white man born in 1806, purchased 327 acres of land in 1850 for approximately $5,000 and started a plantation. Like most plantation owners in Virginia prior to the Civil War, Hall owned slaves to provide manual labor to work the land and animals.
The Halls were well known for the brutal way they managed their slaves. One of their female slaves, Jenny Farr, reached her breaking point with Hall’s wife, Elizabeth. She threw her in the hearth, murdering her. Jenny was convicted and hanged on February 26, 1858.
Hall remarried, and the plantation thrived until the South addressed the issue of slavery. Virginia had voted to secede from the union, and although Hall voted against secession, he did not fare well during the Civil War. His property was the site of many Confederate and Union troop skirmishes, and in August 1861, he fled his home. The Union Army used the site as a camp for the remainder of the war.
Following the war, Hall returned the plantation, which was staffed by laborers. Many of them were freed slaves who lived in rented shacks on the plantation. Hall continued his cruel treatment of the black people who worked on the plantation and was eventually charged with assault and battery and inhuman treatment of black people in his employ in 1866. In the post–Civil War era, the courts in Virginia would not hear any cases brought against white people if black people were the persons harmed. The federal government had established a military court with a provost marshal to adjudicate these cases. Despite sufficient evidence, Hall’s attorney convinced President Andrew Johnson to intercede in the matter. Johnson directed the military provost to drop the case and have it addressed in civil court. Of course, no court in Virginia would proceed with the case, so Hall was never punished.
Hall attempted to sell his land as one lot in 1872 but was unable to make a deal. He then began to sell smaller lots of property to white men. These men established farms using black laborers, who rented shacks on their respective farms. Black people inhabited Halls Hill, but it wasn’t until November 9, 1881, that black people were able to purchase land. Hall sold one acre of his land to Thornton Hyson and Charles W. Chinn for $108 and continued to sell his land to black people until he died in 1888. One other black man, a former slave named Moses Jackson, owned property on Halls Hill in the 1880s. Jackson’s owner gave him the land on what became part of Halls Hill upon his freedom.
There are many descendants of the Hyson, Chinn and Jackson families that lived in Halls Hill for generations. A few still reside there now.
Did you know the about these black men that purchased property to start building this neighborhood?