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APS Celebrates 60 Years of Integration

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APS Celebrates 60 Years of Integration

60 year anniversary on the Arlington Stratford integration

60 year anniversary on the Arlington Stratford integration

Courtesy of Arlington News

60 year anniversary on the Arlington Stratford integration

Courtesy of Arlington News

Courtesy of Arlington News

60 year anniversary on the Arlington Stratford integration

Sofie Dalton, Sentry Staff Reporter

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On February 4, Arlington Public Schools (APS) celebrated the 60th anniversary of its integration. Stratford Junior High School was the first public school to integrate in Virginia. It had previously been an all-white school until February 2, 1959. On that day, Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Lance Newman and Gloria Thompson enrolled in the seventh grade at Stratford and became the first African American students to integrate into a Virginia public school.

According to an APS News Release, APS and the Arlington County Historic Preservation Program hosted a 60th Anniversary celebration at H-B Woodlawn- the secondary school currently located on the Stratford site. Jones, one of the original integrating students, spoke to a crowd of over 200 attendees about his experience entering Stratford for the first time. The event featured performances from the H-B Woodlawn choir and essay participants from the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Visual Arts Contest. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Arlington Chapter President Julius Spain also gave remarks. School Board Chair Reid Goldstein and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey also spoke at the event. Additionally, the Desegregation of Arlington Public Schools (DAPS) exhibit was on display for community members to view. Arlington Public Art also gave out free 60th Anniversary letterpress prints by artist Amos Kennedy and Arlingtonian author Wilma Jones signed books that were available for purchase.

This event celebrated a major moment in both Arlington and Virginia history. Following the Supreme Court case Brown vs Board of Education in which the segregation of public schools based on race was declared unconstitutional, the state of Virginia was resistant to integration. A plan called “Massive Resistance” that was spearheaded by U.S. Senator Harry Flood Byrd aimed to keep Virginia public schools segregated by any means necessary, including closing schools if they tried to integrate.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in 1954, desegregating schools was an upward climb in Arlington. According to APS, eight African American students attempted to enroll in white-only schools in Arlington in 1957. All eight were denied entry, including the three that attempted to attend Stratford. After a lengthy legal battle, a federal judge ruled that APS had to admit four African American students into Stratford. Following that decision in September of 1958, the law that forced schools to close if they integrated- the State School Closing Law– was found unconstitutional, and struck down in January of 1959.

Finally, February 2 came and the four seventh graders made history when they walked into the Stratford building for the first time. They were surrounded by approximately one hundred police officers and a thousand members of the media. Despite the heightened police and news presence, the students’ first day was relatively uneventful and not met with any form of violence. The Anti-Defamation League wrote about the day in their bulletin and titled it “The Day Nothing Happened.”

Now sixty years later, APS and the Arlington community are still remembering and honoring this important piece of our history. The Arlington County Board declared Stratford a local historic district in 2016. In December of 2018, the APS School Board decided to name the new middle school that will be opening on the Stratford site after Dorothy Hamm: a civil rights activist from Arlington who pushed for Stratford’s integration. The naming of Hamm Middle School is a perfect example of how the significance of what happened sixty years ago still strongly impacts the Arlington community today.

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The student news site of Yorktown High School
APS Celebrates 60 Years of Integration