Join us for a new series of stories from the Center for Local History highlighting members of our community who made a difference in ways that helped shape our history and created positive change.
Their voices were not always loud, but what they said or did had a significant impact on our community.
A native of Pennsylvania, Barbara Marx went to school at Bryn Mawr College and the University of Chicago, and for a time lived in pre-Hitler Germany. During WWII she moved to Arlington and subsequently became involved with civil rights activities and the NAACP in which she held various offices
She was also active in other community and activist organizations such as Arlingtonians for a Better County (ABC), the Arlington Community Action Committee (ACAC), and the League of Women Voters (LWV). However, it was her role in the desegregation of the Arlington Public Schools that was her most significant contribution to civil rights.
In the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown vs Board of Education the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. However by 1956 nothing had changed, and the NAACP decided that it was time to put forward lawsuits to try to make the Commonwealth comply with Brown. Marx became one of the few active white members of the Arlington NAACP who, along with two of her daughters, became plaintiffs in a 1956 lawsuit which the NAACP brought against the Arlington County School Board (Thompson vs the County School Board of Arlington County).
Once the suit was reported in the newspapers Marx was harassed, day and night, with obscene phone calls, threats that her house would be bombed as well as attacks by the KKK. However, although fearful and apprehensive, she was a person of deep convictions. She stood her ground and refused to give in under repeated threats even after bigots, angry with her decision to continue the fight, redoubled their efforts to terrorize her.
Flyer for Long Island Lodge & Chapter of B'nai B'riths' Annual Brotherhood Symposium. Barbara Marx serves as a panelist for a vital panel discussion.
Finally, in 1956 the long battle was over when Thompson vs County School Board of Arlington was settled in favor of the plaintiffs, which eventually led to the desegregation of Stratford Junior High School in 1959.
Equal opportunity in housing and employment, and the "war on poverty" were also issues with which Marx was involved, but her unwavering stand on desegregation in the face of continuous, ruthless harassment was arguably her most important contribution to social justice.
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