Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Appreciating Arlington's Path to Racial Desegregation

I finally got around to reading a wonderful piece published in Arlington Magazine last year: Crossing The Divide. This article covers the desegregation of Stratford Junior High, the first public school in Virginia to be desegregated. It also outlines a number of key Arlington specific milestones during the Civil Rights era.

Consider this: In 1950, 4 years before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, a student from the school down the street from where we live brought her own segregation lawsuit. In Carter v. School Board of Arlington County, Constance Carter, alleged that Hoffman-Boston High lacked the same educational benefits of the all white Washington-Lee school. The US District Court Judge disagreed, and so Arlington public schools would stay segregated for another 9 years.

And how about this nugget:

Despite Jim Crow’s lingering presence in Arlington, many community members supported school desegregation. In January 1956, the Arlington School Board—acting on the assumption that the state would allow localities to determine their own positions on racial matters—announced that integration would begin in select county schools over the next two years.

State leaders responded by revoking Arlington’s right to an elected school board. At that point, the Arlington County Board took over the schools, appointing conservatives such as auto dealer Bob Peck and educator Helen Lane to a newly created school board, which overturned the former board’s motion to desegregate.

So much for local control, eh? That maneuver was apparently part of the Massive Resistance policy that Virgina undertook to keep the state segregated.

And consider this historic fact:

Similar laws banned African-Americans from dining at local restaurants, allowing them only to purchase carryout from the back or side door of the kitchen. (Lowe remembers following this protocol to get takeout from Bob & Edith’s Diner on Columbia Pike.)

On one hand, of course Bob & Edith's has been around forever so it would make sense that it had been part of the Jim Crow laws. But, on the other, it seems like such a bygone era that it's remarkable to consider that it's possible to sit down at a booth today that used to be off limits to blacks. Mind blown.

The article also makes reference to the Arlington lunch counter sit ins that took place in the 1960's. Check out this wonderful collection of photos to see the sit ins in action.

Finally, here's one particular photo from that sit in that just boggles the mind:

And here's what you're looking at:

An unidentified member of the American Nazi Party (with swastika armband) reads hate literature attacking the Jewish faith and African Americans to David Hartsough (left with glasses) and Laurence Henry (right) at the Drug Fair at 3815 Lee Highway in Arlington, Virginia on June 9, 1960.

Hartsough, with a small Bible in his hand, and Henry were part of an interracial group staging a sit-in to desegregate Arlington restaurants and lunch counters. Henry responded to the Nazi by reading passages from his Bible.

(Remember, the American Nazi Party had its headquarters in Arlington.)

Truly amazing history and amazing times.


  1. Anonymous11:21 AM

    The NAZI in the photo was Dan Burros. He left the NAZI party and joined the KKK. He committed suicide after a newspaper reporter told him that he was going to reveal that he was Jewish.


  2. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing.