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APS Unveils Panels Honoring Key Figures in School Desegregation

A new installation outside Dorothy Hamm Middle School tells the story of the four students who integrated the building, formerly Stratford Junior High School, six decades ago.

Four free-standing panels and a wall-mounted panel, connected by a trail, depict Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones — the four students who desegregated the building on Feb. 2, 1959 — as well as Dorothy Hamm, the new school’s namesake and prominent civil rights activist in Arlington, and Barbara Johns, who at 16 led a student strike for equal education at a high school in Farmville, Virginia.

During a dedication ceremony for the new Stratford Commemorative Trail on Friday, several speakers said the installation equally inspires children to achieve greatness and charges Arlington Public Schools to continue making history.

“Rest assured that every child will leave this school knowing the civil rights history that happened here, understanding that while four students did begin the desegregation process in 1959, many others were denied that opportunity, and it came later,” school Principal Ellen Smith said. “Our students must know that as citizens of our school, our county, our state and our nation, they have the responsibility to speak up, to say something and make good trouble, as [former Rep.] John Lewis so aptly stated.”

The panels challenge those who walk the trail to take action and remind middle schoolers can make a difference at their age, she added.

In 2016, the school was designated a local historic district and APS convened a committee to find a way to honor its history. Soon after, APS embarked on a process to convert the school at 4100 Vacation Lane from a building housing the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs to a neighborhood middle school. It was renamed for Hamm and reopened to students in 2019. Final touches were finished during the 2020-21 school year.

Hamm’s sons — Bernard and E. Leslie Hamm, Jr., who were present at the ceremony — attended the school soon after its desegregation. Also present at the ceremony were Jones, Thompson and Deskins, Sammy Newman (Lance’s brother) and Tyrone Nelson, one of the original litigants in the lawsuit to desegregate.

During the dedication, Jones thanked his family, the Halls Hill community, the Mount Salvation Baptist and Calvary United Methodist churches, and his teachers at John M. Langston Elementary School.

“I certainly would not be here but for my teachers in Langston. They gave us lessons that we benefited from when we got to Stratford,” Jones said. “We know that Arlington County and this nation have come a long way in their treatment of Black citizens since 1959. There is still much work to do, but with events such as these at Dorothy Hamm Middle School, and other activities taking place in this nation, we can see in the future a more diverse nation that provides true liberty and justice for all regardless of race, religion or color.”

E. Leslie Hamm, Jr. said his mother enlisted him and his family members “as soldiers in a peaceful battle for the decency and equality of all people in Northern Virginia.”

“My family is honored and humbled by the unimaginable honor bestowed open our mother, our family and our community with the dedication of this new school building in Dorothy Hamm’s name,” he said.

APS Superintendent Francisco Durán, School Board Chair Monique O’Grady and County Board member Christian Dorsey, also delivered some remarks.

“There is power in retracing the footsteps of the civil rights movement,” O’Grady said. “Telling our story matters. And names matter. Learn firsthand how civil rights history was made right here at this spot here in Arlington.”

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