School Integration in Arlington
When four African American students, seventh graders Gloria Thompson, Ronald Diskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones (above, left to right), entered Stratford Junior High School (now H.B. Woodlawn) on February 2, 1959, Stratford became the first white public school in Virginia to admit black students.
In opposition to the state’s plan of “massive resistance,” the Virginia NAACP developed a strategy to focus their energy first where the black population was small, and the Byrd machine weak, and it worked. Arlington, with an African American population of about five percent, fit that description. In addition, it had a strong core of black activists, as well as whites who supported their cause and also did not want the Arlington schools closed down.
On that cold winter day, half of Arlington’s police force, wearing white battle helmets and equipped with gas grenades and masks, were deployed around the entire perimeter of the school grounds. Fifteen plainclothesmen were on duty inside the school building, to which only students and teachers were allowed access. Press and other media, while present in large numbers, were barred from the premises of the school. Because of the precautions taken and the careful groundwork that was laid, the day passed without serious incident.
This date, however, marked the beginning of a process, for it was not until 1971 that Arlington schools were fully integrated.
The Virginia Room holds a wide array of materials on desegregation of the county’s public schools. There are several oral histories, archival collections, photographs, vertical files that include newspaper clippings, and recordings of Library events featuring students and administrators of the time.
What About You?
What do you remember about Arlington at this time? Did you go to Stratford Junior High in the late 1950s or early 1960s? Let us know what you remember!