Before the H-B Woodlawn Program came to 4100 Vacation Lane, the building was known as Stratford Junior High. In February 2009, Arlington celebrated the 50th anniversary of the integration of Stratford Junior High School, the first public school in Virginia to integrate after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Much of Virginia was caught up in massive resistance to the Supreme Court’s order to end desegregation “with all deliberate speed,” but the people of Arlington chose to comply with the letter and, more importantly, the spirit of the Court’s decision, in order to provide a quality education to all of its students.
Today our building houses both the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Stratford Program. Arlington Public Schools has done much to meet the original goal of the community back in 1959, but many challenges remain to improving diversity in its schools (including the H-B Woodlawn program) and to otherwise ensure that all its students have the same educational opportunities.
Read below for more background information about desegregation in Arlington. Click here to read a summary of Dorothy Hamm's book, My Story - The Integration of Arlington Public Schools, written by an H-B alumus, Michael Gibbs.
Watch this news report from February 7, 1959 by WSB-TV reporter Neal Strozier commenting on the day.
Click here to see the broadcast from NBC news on Feb 2, 2009.
Key dates in the integration of Virginia's public school system
School Desegregation in Arlington
Before Feb. 2, 1959, there were schools in Arlington for white students and separate schools for black students. Virginia was one of 17 southern states that required racial segregation in the schools. The black schools had less money and used discarded books and materials from the white schools.
U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd Sr., D-Va, coined the phrase "Massive Resistance" and urged Southern states to fight federal desegregation orders. Following his lead, the VA General Assembly adopted a policy of Massive Resistance to integration.
The state legislature voted to abolish Arlington's elected school board and replace it with one appointed by the county board, which was more conservative. State law called for automatic shutdown of any racially-mixed school.
"The reaction of the state to the Supreme Court was one of defiance," recalls O. Glenn Stahl, former Arlington school board, and leader of the Committee to Preserve Public Schools which fought to keep schools open after desegregation. According to Stahl, "the state legislature was saying, 'if any desegregation takes place, we will close the schools.' That was the essence of the law."
On May 17, 1956 the NAACP filed suit against Arlington County and three other Virginia localities, seeking to force school desegregation.
The integration laws were tested several times when integrationists attempted to enroll black students into white schools. In September 1957 eight black students applied to Arlington white schools and were turned away - three at Stratford Junior High, two at Washington-Lee, two at Swanson and one at Thomas Jefferson. Principal Claude Richmond of Stratford told Joyce Bailey, George Nelson and Leslie Hamm, Jr. they could not be admitted.
By the summer of 1958, Arlington was under a federal court ordered to admit seven Negro children to four white schools. State law called for automatic shutdown of any racially-mixed school. The people of Arlington were concerned they would have no public schools if they complied with the federal court order. In fact, the state had closed schools in Norfolk when they tried to integrate, leaving 17,000 children without a school.
Citizens from Arlington, Richmond, Front Royal and Norfolk united to form the Committee to Preserve Public Schools. The committee included both segregationists and integrationists but all members insisted the public schools be kept open. Stahl, a former Arlington school board member, was the leader of this group which fought to keep schools open after desegregation.
On Sept. 17, 1958, Alexandria Federal Judge Albert V. Bryan ruled that Arlington must admit four black students to Stratford. Governor Almond directed that the State Pupil Placement Board and not the County School Board had the sole right to place the pupils. The Committee to Preserve Public Schools sued Governor Almond in October 1958. In January 1959, the State School Closing law was found unconstitutional and struck down, forcing Governor Almond to obey the court order to admit black students to white schools.
On Feb. 2, 1959, four black students, Michael G. Jones, Gloria Thompson, Donald Deskins and Lance D. Newman, were enrolled in the seventh grade at Stratford Junior High School in Arlington. 85 policeman in full riot gear and close to 1000 members of the media watched the students enter the building that day. Watch this news report from February 7, 1959 by WSB-TV reporter Neal Strozier commenting on the day.
For more information about the integration of Virginia's public schools:
Read A Summary of Dorothy Hamm's book, My Story -- The Integration of Arlington Public Schools written by Michael Gibbs (HBW, 2008)
From Time Magazine 1959
The Civil Rights Movement in Virginia: The Closing of Prince Edward County's School (This article discusses further efforts to thwart integration after Feb. 1959.)
It Wasn't Little Rock By Clarissa T. Sligh, 2005