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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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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24 Years is a Long Time to Desegregate

24 Years is a Long Time to Desegregate

Click above to listen to the blog post.

The murder of George Floyd, the experience of Christian Cooper, and the outright racism of the president, is having an impact in multiple ways in our country. One thing the protests in the streets of America, from big cities to small towns, is changing is the way a lot of people think about American History. Folks are learning about Black Wall Streets, in Tulsa and other states. They are learning about the reason statutes to honor Confederate losers were installed all over the South following Reconstruction. They are learning about a lot of racist and evil actions that were taken all over this country to keep Black people down since the enslaved Americans learned that they had been freed.

I am getting a lot of interest from people on social media about my book, which provides a history of the Halls Hill neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. The levels of Jim Crow racism, discrimination, and institutional racism Black Arlington residents endured and overcame that I describe in the book is eye-opening to some who don’t understand the level of racism Black people endure(d) in Arlington. The actions those Black Arlingtonians took and the courage they showed to impact change helped make this County what it is today. But we still have far to go, as the current environment shows us. In schools and communities, I am encouraged with the curiosity people are showing to learn and do more.

I must admit that I think to myself, FINALLY.

There are so many aspects of Black History in Arlington that are not well known.

I wanna start here: It’s time to admit that the reason students in Arlington County Public Schools are not taught about the real Black History that happened in this County is because of institutional racism.

The School Board has never acknowledged the ugly past of the real story of the steps that led to desegregation. There is an annual program to commemorate the desegregation of Virginia Public Schools which happened in Arlington at Stratford Junior High School on February 2, 1959. But there is no discussion about the full truth that efforts for desegregation began in 1947 and did not end until 1971. Even now some schools in North Arlington are becoming even more segregated with the latest school boundary changes. I learned just days ago that critical programs for children with IEPs are 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. Drew was one of the last segregated schools in Arlington County in 1971. Yes, you read that correctly. 1971.

Sorry, I digress. Let me stay on point. A more comprehensive description of Arlington school desegregation.

It began with Constance Carter, a resident of the Green Valley neighborhood. Her family sued the Arlington County School Superintendent and the Arlington School Board in 1947. She wanted to enter Washington-Lee High School because Hoffman-Boston, the segregated school for Blacks did not offer the advanced courses which she wanted to enroll. At that time, Hoffman-Boston was not an accredited school. Graduates could not attend college with their diploma. Two other Black students filed suit against the County in September 1949. All these cases were denied, but by October 1949, Arlington County was paying for 33 Black students to attend a vocational school in Manassas, rather than allow them to take the courses at Washington-Lee High School.

Court cases, rulings, and appeals continued across Virginia and other Southern states until some cases were combined and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling was made on May 17, 1954. But that did not deter Virginia or Arlington County from their efforts to deny equal education to their black constituents. The NAACP filed more lawsuits in Virginia than any other state to force integration following the Supreme Court ruling. The Arlington lawsuit was filed on May 17, 1956, exactly two years after the Brown ruling.

U.S. Senator Harry Byrd and his cronies developed the legislative strategy for “Massive Resistance,” to keep Virginia Public Schools segregated. This was an organized effort to defy the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. By the summer of 1958 the federal lawsuit for Arlington, Thompson v. County of Arlington School Board had over 30 student plaintiffs. The School Board lost ruling after ruling. They filed appeal after appeal to deny, then delay as long as possible, the day of desegregation. Finally on February 2, 1959, four Black students were allowed to enroll in Stratford. Desegregation trickled after that date, with students from North Arlington offered more opportunities to enroll in formerly all-white schools over time. The School Board closed John M. Langston School in 1966, the neighborhood elementary school in the Halls Hill community, rather than have White students go to school in a Black community. (Arlington’s answer is ALWAYS to bus Black students to achieve desegregation.) More importantly, the County continued to segregate Black students at Drew and Hoffman-Boston Elementary Schools.

As an excerpt from an Arlington County publication states, “By 1969, Arlington’s junior and senior high schools were all desegregated. Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School had closed in 1964, and Black students were placed in formerly all-white schools. At the elementary school level, however, there were still two schools that were virtually entirely Black.” After yet another series of lawsuits, Arlington finally desegregated by again busing ONLY the Black students to formerly all-white schools in 1971. It took 24 years to fully desegregate this County’s schools. Such a shame. Over 17 years after the U.S Supreme Court ruling.

It’s time to acknowledge the full history. Warts and ugly scars along with the celebration of the small steps we are continuing to take toward equal education for all in Arlington County Public Schools.

To my old readers, yes, I am stepping out of the “Halls Hill History” box a little bit. But its past time to tell the history and share the stories with a new intention and mission. So every Sunday I am going to share a little bit of the history of this County from my perspective. Some things will be from my Halls Hill book. But look out for other historical information I think needs to be shared from any part of Black Arlington.

We can start a conversation here on the blog. Just comment below.

Oh, if you’re a troll, you’ll be blocked. Only thoughtful, insightful, intelligent conversation allowed.

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Interview with WDVM-TV

Screenshot from WDVM-TV
Screenshot WDVM-TV

Things happened really quickly in February. The combination of Black History Month and the commemoration of the 60th year since my brother, Michael Jones, Lance Newman, Ronald Deskins and Gloria Thompson desegregated schools in Arlington created a lot of interest in Halls Hill and the book.

Local television station, WDVM-TV contacted Michael and I and here is the interview.

Thanks to Kiona Dyches, the reporter who had an interest to share the story of our community. It really was more than a neighborhood.