Join Club

Progressive Voice: A Proud Day for Arlington

Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or

By Lawrence Roberts

57 years ago this week, Arlington was at the epicenter of a quake that shook the foundations of the conservative, segregationist establishment in Virginia that was devoted to “Massive Resistance” against school integration.

On the morning of February 2, 1959, four young African-American students enrolled for classes at Stratford Junior High School (now home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs). They did so after January 1959 state and federal courts rulings that struck down key Massive Resistance laws as unconstitutional.

The integration of Stratford – together with 17 African-American students in Norfolk entering previously all-white schools – marked the first time that any of Virginia’s K-12 schools were integrated, nearly five years after the U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the end of segregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education.

It would be many more years before integration became a reality across the Commonwealth. The death knell for segregation in Virginia occurred in 1970 when Governor Linwood Holton became the first Virginia Governor to support integration by using his inaugural speech to call for an end to racial discrimination in Virginia.

Later that year, Holton escorted his daughter to begin classes at the nearly all-black John F. Kennedy High School in August 1971. A photo of that event was seen across the country and appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

Gov. Holton’s actions had the intended effect of providing opportunities for service by African Americans at high levels of government in Virginia and also to make Virginia part of a “New South” movement to make the region more competitive for economic development, entrepreneurs, tourists and top students from around the country and the world.

All of Virginia’s progress on integration and greater educational opportunity over the ensuing decades was possible because of the brave actions of Arlingtonians who helped bring about the integration of Stratford in February 1959.

The bravery was most evident on the part of the four students – Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Lance Newman and Gloria Thompson. But many others – parents, teachers, administrators, School Board members, lawyers, judges, law enforcement officers, and community leaders – both black and white – were integral to the many years of effort that led to making that moment a reality.

Stories about this bravery were kept alive over time through the efforts of parents and community leaders who had been involved.

Broader recognition of the events of February 1959 was spurred by Arlington Educational Television’s 2001 production of a documentary “It’s Just Me: The Integration of the Arlington Public Schools.”

On the 50th anniversary in February 2009, then Governor (now U.S. Senator) Tim Kaine and First Lady Anne Holton (daughter of Linwood Holton and now Virginia’s Secretary of Education) joined the Arlington community in remembering Stratford’s historic significance.

And this week, Arlington County, Arlington Public Schools, NAACP-Arlington Branch and the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington invited the community to an event honoring those who fought for school integration and made history at Stratford.

The hundreds in attendance heard from our County and School Board Chairs (Libby Garvey and Emma Violand-Sanchez), the presidents of the local NAACP and Black Heritage Museum (Karen Nightengale and Craig Syphax), and a panel that included among others three of the four African-American students who enrolled at Stratford in February 1959 and a 104 year old former Stratford teacher who welcomed two of the four students to her classroom that day.

If you would like additional information about this proud moment in Arlington history, good places to start are the APS website and the Arlington Public Library website. The 2001 documentary is available on YouTube.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Recent Stories

More Arlington properties could be impacted by 100- and 500-year floods, according to new federal flood insurance rate maps. The county estimates some 300 buildings, up from 172, now risk…

Costs are creeping up for a courtroom makeover in Arlington. County Board members approved an extra $200,000 this past Saturday to complete renovations in Courtroom 10B, a project ambitiously dubbed…

Gardens with abundant native species could soon have an official definition in county code: “managed natural landscape.” This definition would protect Arlingtonians who grow the kinds of native grasses, wildflowers…

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Three…

Arlington Travel Basketball (ATB) will be conducting tryouts for our 2023-24 teams beginning Tuesday 10/2.

There is no charge for these tryouts.

Interested players must pre-register and attend at least 2 tryouts to be considered for a team.

ATB will field teams in grades 5 – 8; 4th graders are eligible to attend.

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

Thorough Testing

Sometimes mold is easy to spot, but you don’t know how deep inside your walls it has spread. It can grow in sinks, cabinets, and other places you frequent every day. If you find mold, the question remains: Do I call a professional? Thistle Environmental, LLC believes in quality, comprehensive testing.

CALL NOW: (703) 929-4036

Submit your own Announcement here.

Equality Arlington Coming Out Party

Come celebrate National Coming Out Day at Equality Arlington’s Coming Out Party on Wednesday, October 11th from 7-8:30 PM at Busboys and Poets (Shirlington)! Senator Adam Ebbin is our featured speaker and we will have Arlingtonians sharing what coming out

NY Cat Film Festival

Experience through film the beauty of our relationships to cats. This unique film is a compilation of shorts with a feline theme which premieres every year in New York City and then travels to venues across the United States. This


Subscribe to our mailing list