The John M. Langston Citizens Association will celebrate the 85th Anniversary of the organization with a series of events during the weekend of May 13th through 15th.
The Opening Program on Friday, May 13th at the Langston-Brown Community Center will feature recognition of the 28 plaintiffs from the Thompson v. Arlington School Board 1958 court case who were denied entrance to white schools, when the Stratford Four (Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Lance Newman, and Gloria Thompson) were admitted on February 2, 1959.
These students were allowed to enter the white schools in September 1959, so many people today may wonder, ‘What’s the big deal, and why are they being recognized 63 years later?” Well, it is a big deal because the Arlington County School Board not only denied them the right to equal education for the spring 1959 semester, BUT they also did everything in their power to embarrass and demean the students.
I’ve always wondered when the Arlington Public Schools would do the right thing and finally recognize these brave students and their families. I took the opportunity to ask Dr. Duran, Arlington School Superintendent about this issue about a year ago. I then began to work with his Chief of Staff, Brian Stockton, who was able to gain approval for Arlington Public Schools and the School Board to work with the John M. Langston Citizens Association to finally honor them during our opening event.
The Federal court ruling in 1956 approved desegregation in Arlington, but the School Board fought that ruling, and it was never enforced. Five of the plaintiffs from that case along with 27 additional students became the plaintiffs in the 1958 Thompson v Arlington School Board case. The image below is a list of the plaintiffs from my book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood, in the chapter titled The Stratford Four. I secured this list during research at the Library of Virginia.
Two of these plaintiffs dropped out during the process, Deloris Crutchfield and George Crutchfield.
The Arlington School Board had the students evaluated by Cyril Mill, a psychologist for the Virginia Department of Mental Hygiene. He recommended rejecting 12 of the students for psychological reasons or an inability to adjust. The School Board stated some students had academic deficiencies, but it was so blatantly racist that in one case, the NAACP lawyers pointed out that the “student was a year ahead of his grade according to the results of the California Achievement Tests in his school file.” There were five reasons for rejection by the School Board: Improper attendance areas, overcrowding at Washington-Lee High School, academic deficiency, psychological problems, and inability to adapt to a new situation.
Take a look at this Washington Post archive article describing “Arlington Board Defends Negro Rejections.”
Now, bear in mind that the Arlington School Board had already delayed the start of the school year because of their fear that Massive Resistance, the strategy for continuing segregation in public schools, would fall with yet another federal ruling to desegregate. The Washington Post documented that on September 3, 1958, in an article titled, Judge Bryan Hears Placement Body and Local Board.
THE SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS
Who were the five members of the Arlington School Board in 1958? Right-wing conservative, Robert A. Peck, Segregationist Mrs. Helen S. Lane, the longest serving member, Barnard Joy, then James Stockard, a native Texan and dedicated liberal, and finally L. Lee Beam, a conservative, but one who decided not to join either of the factions and “study each problem and vote by conviction.” See what the Washington Post reported on August 25, 1958 in the article titled, “Desegregation Spotlights Arlington School Board.”
JUDGE BRYAN’S ORDER
But as we all know, the School Board was unsuccessful in stopping desegregation. But Judge Bryan only allowed the four students to enter white schools in February. Here is a Washington Post article from September 18, 1958 with the highlights of his ruling, “Text of Bryan’s Arlington Desegregation Order.“
YET THEY FOUGHT ON
The School Board wasn’t finished fighting yet. They sued to delay the desegregation until the Fall of 1959 for the four who were approved by the Court. Of course, Judge Bryan denied the request, which the Arlington School Board continued to appeal until finally, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren denied the request. The Bryan denial is documented in another Washington Post article on January 29, 1959, titled, “Delay Denied on Arlington Negro Pupils.”
THE STUDENTS FOUGHT BACK AND THEY WON!
Everyone knows about Arlington County being the first in Virginia to desegregate public schools. Every February we recognize the four students who bravely entered Stratford. But what about the other plaintiffs left behind?
Well, 22 of the students and their families decided to fight on. C’mon now, you didn’t think that Arlington let those students enroll in September 1959 because it was the right thing to do, did you???
The NAACP brought yet another case (were you aware that the NAACP filed more lawsuits in the Commonwealth of Virginia to desegregate schools than any other state in the union?!) The Washington Post describes the next chapter of the fight to desegregate in Arlington in an article titled, “NAACP Seeks Arlington Plan to Desegregate.”
Please join us as we recognize and honor these courageous former students at the Opening Program on Friday, May 13th at 6 PM (program begins at 6:30 PM) at the Langston-Brown Community Center, 2121 N. Culpeper St, Arlington, VA 22207
We hope to see you there!