Interview with Dorothy Hamm, School Desegregation Activist
In honor of the 60th anniversary of the desegregation of Arlington County public schools, the Center for Local History presents an oral history clip from an interview with Dorothy Hamm, who lived in Arlington at the height of the battle to desegregate Arlington’s public schools, and was part of different lawsuits throughout the county to integrate not only the schools but restaurants, hospitals, and theaters.
In this clip from 1986, Hamm shared her experience trying to register her son for school at Stratford and her activity in lawsuits to desegregate public facilities in Arlington County.
Dorothy Hamm has been honored by the County with the naming of a new middle school in Cherrydale, the Dorothy Hamm Middle School, set to open in September 2019.
NARRATOR: Dorothy Hamm
INTERVIEWER 1: Edmund Campbell
INTERVIEWER 2: Cas Cocklin
DATE: February 21, 1986
EC: You recall the Supreme Court decision directing the desegregation of the public schools "with all deliberate speed" which was made in l954. After that time, you became rather active in the shall I call it the desegregation movement, did you not?
DH: Yes, I did. My reason for doing that was because I felt that with the Supreme Court's decision my two sons would have an opportunity to attend Stratford, an integrated school and I told them the meaning of the Supreme Court's decision, and I also told them that they would be going to Stratford. However, almost 2 years had passed, they still had not been permitted to attend; and this is why I really got involved.
EC: What did you do?
DH: On one occasion, my husband and I took our oldest son to Stratford in an attempt register him, and he was denied. I was also one of the original plaintiffs in the suit of 14 parents and 22 children.
EC: What suit was this?
DH: This was the suit that was filed by the N.A.A.C.P. in May of 1956, 2 years after the Supreme Court's decision.
EC: This was the suit, was it, in the federal court for the Eastern District of Virginia before Judge Albert Bryan?
DH: Yes, it was.
EC: And you were one of the original plaintiffs?
DH: That's right.
EC: Did you take any other action at that time other than participate in that suit? I mean were you involved in any other desegregation movements at that time?
DH: Not really at that time. They came just a little bit later my suits involving the theatres, the hospital, eating places and working places.
CC: May I ask, in these desegregation suits where the children were involved, what was the feeling of the children? Were they truly indignant and anxious for equality of education or opportunities or was there any compulsion on the part of the parents requiring the children's cooperation?
DH: No, I think all the children were very eager to go. All of the parents were very anxious for their children to attend the school because they felt this was a better opportunity for their children knowing that all of them had attended segregated schools.
For more information on desegregation in Arlington County and its schools, please visit Arlington Public Library’s Project DAPS website.
Photo of students and librarian in the library of Hoffman-Boston from the George Melvin Richardson Collection, 1950s: projectdaps.org/items/show/42
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
What is the oral history collection?
Oral history is a popular method of research used for understanding historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of people’s personal experiences.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.