This Week in Halls Hill History: The Origin of Langston School

Audio: The Origin of Langston School

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.


Screenshot from the Washington Post Archives.

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.

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