(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Arlingtonians are marching in the streets protesting for racial justice, but 60 years ago that fight took the form of sit-ins at Arlington lunch counters.
This day in 1960 marked the start of a series of demonstrations that remained peaceful despite harassment by local white students, police, and Neo-Nazis. The sit-ins went on for 13 days and were a pivotal moment in local civil rights history.
“On June 9, 1960, just after 1 p.m., about a dozen people walked into the People’s Drug Store at 4709 Lee Highway in Cherrydale and began what would become a peaceful County-wide demonstration for the right of all people to be served at what had historically been white-only lunch counters,” Arlington’s Historic Preservation Program said. “Although African Americans could patronize stores as clientele, employees refused to serve customers of color at the lunch counters within the stores.”
The Historic Preservation Program said other shoppers, including local students, harassed the protestors. A group of members of the Arlington-based American Nazi Party, led by George Rockwell, also showed up and were photographed harassing the protestors while wearing swastika armbands.
Images from the sit-ins showed black protestors sitting at the counter while white counter-protesters marched behind them with signs bearing racist slogans and images. The police were called but made no arrests, and the protestors left when the drug stores closed at 10 p.m.
The next day, police arrested one of the leaders of the protests, Lawrence Henry, allegedly for driving without glasses or proper tags. Protestors returned to stores the next day even though the lunch counters had been closed.
“Protesters arrive around noon at the People’s Drug Store on Lee Highway, the Drug Fair at 5401 Lee Highway, the Howard Johnson restaurant at 4700 Lee Highway, and the Drug Fair at 3815 Lee Highway around noon,” wrote the Historic Preservation Program. “All lunch counters are closed, and eventually crowds, largely of high school students, gather to harass the demonstrators. At the Drug Fair at 3815 Lee Highway, George Rockwell and some uniformed followers try to provoke the protesters. Then, however, police required the Neo-Nazis and the ensuing crowd of over 100 to leave, allowing the protesters to remain.”
That evening, demonstrators announced a temporary halt to the protests for negotiations to take place, after which the heads of People’s Drug and Drug Fair said they would be willing to discuss mediation.
Arlington County government did not intervene, saying that store owners had the right to decline service. The sit-ins continued on June 18, and by June 22 some of the stores that had initially discriminated against black customers started to change their position.
The F.W. Woolworth store in Shirlington announced that patrons would be served indiscriminately and on June 22 an integrated group of protestors were served at the counter. The next day, 21 lunch counters opened to black patrons, including several where the protests had started.
“We remember and honor the 20 determined individuals who took a stand against unfair, discriminatory practices,” the Historic Preservation Program said. “Their bravery helped change Arlington, Alexandria, and surrounding localities, and brought about an important and visible step toward desegregating our community. They inspire us today in our ongoing efforts to achieve racial equity.”
Photos via Washington Area Spark/Flickr
Petition for Intersection Improvements — “Last Friday, our life turned upside down when a car traveling upward of 40-50 mph mowed down our 10-year old daughter and puppy… We would like to see three simple measures put in place at each of these intersections – (1) stop signs, (2) crosswalk stripes on the asphalt and (3) curb extensions or mini-circles if deemed appropriate/necessary by County traffic experts.” [Change.org]
County: Support Civil Rights By Taking Census — “Census data on both race and origin are used to ensure civil rights protections including voting rights and fair housing. The data are also used to address employment discrimination, provide language services and fund schools, as well as many other programs and services.” [Arlington County]
Nearby: Foot Chase in Falls Church — “Police received two separate calls about two women who felt threatened by a man while they were walking near the 400 block of W. Broad Street. Police located the man and pursued him as he fled on foot. Officers attempted to communicate with the man, but he became aggressive. Officers gave warning, then used capsaicin or “pepper” spray… After officers consulted with one of the victims, no arrest was made and no charges were pressed at this time.” [City of Falls Church]
Arlington’s state senators aren’t alone in pushing for gun control in Richmond this legislative session — their counterparts in the House of Delegates have also proposed a number of bills on the topic.
Other bills being reviewed by Arlington’s delegates this session range from a local civil rights fight to the recognition of some Arlington cemeteries as historic places.
The all-Democrat group of delegates have been empowered by a new Democratic majority in the state legislature. Many of the gun control measures proposed in the House of Delegates and the State Senate have already faced substantial pushback, particularly from a crowded gun rights rally on Monday that drew national headlines, though a number of bills have passed at least one of the chambers.
Below are some of the bills that have been proposed by each of Arlington’s delegates.
Del. Mark Levine
Among bills introduced by Del. Mark Levine is HB 180, which would eliminate the requirement that the race of spouses be included in the marriage record filed with the state. Levine is also sponsoring HB 301, which would decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. Both bills were referred to committees, and HB 180 was recommended by a subcommittee on Tuesday.
The requirement of couples to list their race on marriage licenses is an obscure holdover from Jim Crow laws that’s gotten some pushback over the years, including a lawsuit in September by a local lawyer that ended with a judge ruling the law was unconstitutional.
Levine also introduced several gun control measures as well, including restriction of firearm ammunition, prohibitions on ownership after certain criminal convictions, and a prohibition on the sale or transport of weapons defined in the bill as “assault firearms.”
Del. Patrick Hope
Hope is also the sponsor of the House version of Favola’s bill that would eliminate the death penalty for cases involving a severe mental illness. Hope’s HB 1284 would eliminate the use of isolated confinement in state correctional facilities and juvenile correctional facilities. One bill, HB 1120, would also dramatically increase the tax on tobacco products, from the current 30 cents per pack to $1.80 per pack.
Hope’s gun control legislation, HB 1080, would prohibit school boards from authorizing or designating any person to possess a firearm on school property other than those expressly authorized by state law.
Also of note is Hope’s bill, HB 712, which would allow anyone required to post ordinances, resolutions, notices or advertisements in newspapers to publish instead in an online publication. The requirement for governments to only post notices in print newspapers is a standing rule backed by organizations like the Virginia Press Association. The requirement has gotten some pushback in recent years by local jurisdictions like Vienna, which argue that the law is costly and unfair to areas without print newspapers.
Del. Rip Sullivan
Among Rip Sullivan’s proposed legislation is HB 213, which would add out-of-state student IDs to the list of acceptable forms of voter identification, and HB 379, which adds three cemeteries in Arlington (Calloway Cemetery, Lomax Cemetery, and Mount Salvation Cemetery) to the list of organizations that may receive funds from the Department of Historic Resources.
Sullivan’s gun control legislation includes HB 674, which would allow law enforcement to remove firearms from someone they deem poses a substantial risk, HB 458, which would make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a fugitive to purchase, possess or transport a firearm, and HB 459, which would prohibit anyone convicted of assault and battery as part of a hate crime from possessing or transporting a firearm.
Del. Alfonso Lopez
Legislation from Lopez includes HB 1184, which opens up options for distributing generated solar energy by individuals and localities, and HB 219, which would automatically register individuals at the Department of Motor Vehicles who are applying for or replacing their driver’s license.
Lopez’s gun control legislation includes HB 264, which would remove the option for concealed handgun permit applicants to demonstrate competence electronically, and HB 260, which increases the allowed length of time for a background check from the end of the next business day to within five business days.
Crossover for legislation — when bills that pass one house are considered by the other — is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 11, and the last day to act on remaining bills is March 5. Gov. Ralph Northam can sign or veto legislation until April 6, and the new laws will take effect July 1.
Photo courtesy former Del. Bob Brink
The ceremony “Prayers of a King” is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 19, at Wakefield High School (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street). Doors are scheduled to open at 4:30 p.m. with the program running from 5-6:30 p.m. The ceremony will feature music, dance and spoken word performances that tell the story of desegregation in Arlington, the county said.
According to a press release:
At 8:45 a.m. on February 2, 1959, four young students from the Arlington’s Halls Hill neighborhood entered Stratford Junior High School and became the first students to desegregate a public school in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The 2020 MLK Tribute program focuses on their journey; when they learn they will be the first African Americans to integrate a school in Virginia and into their first day of school, while simultaneously following Dr. King’s fight for equality during the same time period.
Admission to the event is free, though guests are encouraged to bring non-perishable goods to donate to the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Seating is given on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Photo via Wakefield High School
Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood is now one step closer to changing its name back to Green Valley, thanks to the Arlington County Civic Federation.
The federation approved the Nauck Civic Association’s request to change its name to the Green Valley Civic Association on Tuesday. The vote came after neighbors requested the county nix the name they said obscures the true history of freed slaves who founded the community.
“We’re just very happy that it’s changed and it’s the name that’s always associated with it,” said Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark.
The historically black neighborhood was first built partly by freed slaves Sarah Ann and Levi Jones. They bought 14 acres of land along Four Mile Run and sold parcels to other African Americans during and after the Civil War, according to research from Dr. Alfred O. Taylor Jr., who formerly led the Nauck Civic Association and the local NAACP chapter.
The renaming resolution passed by the Civic Federation notes:
“The residents of the area continually celebrate and honor the heritage of a ‘FREED’ community that reminds us of the many hills our ancestors had to climb, slavery, segregation and racial covenants that have bought us to today with the freedoms that we hold.”
Taylor wrote in a February open letter that his research indicates county officials began calling the area Nauck in the 1970s after Confederate soldier and German immigrant John D. Nauck, who purchased almost 80 acres of land in the area in the 1870s.
“It is inappropriate for the diverse community to venerate a person who fought to preserve slavery and whose memory evokes painful reminders of laws that segregated and excluded African Americans from public life,” Taylor wrote. “We find no record or evidence linking Nauck to efforts to improve the quality of life for its residents.”
Tuesday’s vote by the Civic Federation is not the last step in the process. The organization must transmit the matter to the County Board, which will then discuss and vote on the change.
Support for reconsidering the county’s Confederate vestiges has gained steam since the deadly Charlottesville white supremacist rally in 2017 and amid national conversations about the recent rise of racist hate groups.
In Arlington, leaders waged heated battles to strip Washington-Lee of the second half of its hyphenated name, which referenced Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They are also poised to remove the “Stratford” in Stratford School, which originated from the name of Lee’s birthplace.
The County Board previously has acknowledged Green Valley’s unique history. In 2013, members approved a historic location designation to the Green Valley Pharmacy in recognition of it being the first store in the county to serve black and white customers, including serving food at an integrated diner inside the shop.
The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is hosting a talk with local civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.
On Tuesday, April 30, the Museum will hold a talk with Mulholland, who hails from Arlington and who will share her experiences as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
“She is known for taking part in sit-ins, being the first white to integrate Tougaloo College in Jackson Mississippi, joining the Delta Sigma Theta, joining Freedom Rides, and being held on death row in Parchman Penitentiary,” the museum said in a press release about the upcoming event.
Mulholland’s stories were previously chronicled in the 2013 documentary, “An Ordinary Hero.”
The event is free and will start at 7 p.m. in the Reinsch Library Auditorium at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road).
Image courtesy of Black Heritage Museum
(Updated at 2 p.m) Some community leaders in Nauck are pushing to see the neighborhood’s name changed to “Green Valley,” arguing that an area so rich in African American history shouldn’t be named for a former Confederate soldier.
The historically black South Arlington neighborhood was founded, in part, by freed slaves. Yet it’s come to be known for John D. Nauck, a German immigrant who served in the Confederate Army, then purchased a total of 79 acres of land in the area in 1874 and 1875.
In an open letter to the Nauck community distributed Friday (Feb. 15), longtime civic leader Dr. Alfred Taylor argues that it is “inappropriate for the diverse community to venerate a person who fought to preserve slavery and whose memory evokes painful reminders of laws that segregated and excluded African Americans from public life.”
The county has been locked in some contentious debates over Confederate symbols across Arlington ever since the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017 sparked a nationwide conversation about the issue. The School Board’s push to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School proved to be an especially heated process, but Taylor suggested that other communities in the county should be “taking a page” from the Board’s example on this front.
It’s not yet clear how the process of renaming the neighborhood might proceed — the community’s civic association could look to simply change its own name, though there may be additional county approvals tied up in that process. But Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark is at least circulating Taylor’s letter in a bid to receive feedback on the proposal, particularly given the persistent complaints from residents that the county has failed to listen to their voices.
In the letter, Taylor argues that Nauck residents increasingly support naming the neighborhood “Green Valley/Nauck” or just “Green Valley,” in a bid to honor the area’s original nickname.
The exact origins of the “Green Valley” name are uncertain — Taylor, once the head of the Nauck Civic Association and Arlington’s chapter of the NAACP, wrote that his extensive research into the area’s history suggests the name is linked back to James Green, who owned property on what is now the site of the Army-Navy Country Club.
Yet he writes that “Green Valley” name bears more of a link to the area’s African American history than it does to any one person. Levi and Sarah Ann Jones became famous as the first freed slaves to purchase property in the area back in 1844, and Taylor argues that they helped build up a community in the area and make the “Green Valley” name more widespread.
The area was occupied by the Union Army during the Civil War, and eventually became home to a “Freedmen’s Village” following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Taylor also writes that the Jones family subsequently sold some property to other African American families, helping to establish the area as an enclave for Arlington’s black residents.
As Virginia officials increasingly embraced policies of segregation, the area became home to a large number of businesses owned by black residents, according to the Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County, prepared in 2016 as part of the county’s Historic Preservation Program.
Taylor pointed out that the area was “largely excluded from full participation in mainstream American political and social life and commerce” and so residents felt they had to “do for themselves.” Many of the businesses to spring up in the 1900s bore the “Green Valley” name, including the Green Valley Pharmacy, which the County Board designated as a historic district in 2013.
Nonetheless, Taylor argues that the name “Nauck” took hold among the “official Arlington” set in the 1970s — the county’s history of the area suggests that the name “Nauck” first appeared in reference to the area as far back as 1876, and that black residents referred to it as “Nauckville” dating back to the late 19th century.
But Taylor hypothesizes that the destruction of the manor on Green’s original property in 1924 helped contribute to the “Green Valley” name fading away, or perhaps that leaders at the time avoided referring to Green Valley because it was “extensively occupied and used throughout most of the Civil War by the Union Army.” The construction of many Confederate statues and monuments in the early 20th century has often been connected to efforts by white leaders to send a message to black residents, and Taylor suggests some of that could be at play in the decision to embrace a former Confederate soldier like Nauck.
While recounting that John D. Nauck held county positions like Justice of the Peace and “sold considerable property to African Americans,” the county’s heritage guide notes that Nauck fled Arlington in 1891 after his efforts to evict an African American resident were met with resistance.
Taylor also points out that community leaders like the Jones family or William Augustus Rowe (a leader within the “Freedmen’s Village” who later won political office) were passed over in favor of Nauck, and Taylor argues they also deserve consideration.
“We find no record or evidence linking Nauck to efforts to improve the quality of life for its residents,” Taylor wrote. “Look at many of the local, national and international contributions that were made by the residents under the banner of Green Valley… to let that name slip into nothingness would be a travesty to their memory.”
Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the civic association’s next steps for considering Taylor’s proposal.
It’s been sixty years since four black students integrated Stratford Junior High School, marking the beginning of the end of school segregation in Virginia, and Arlington leaders are planning a special event to commemorate the momentous anniversary.
The school system and Arlington County’s Historic Preservation Program scheduled a celebration tonight (Monday) at the H-B Woodlawn auditorium, near the original Stratford building at 4100 Vacation Lane.
The event will mark nearly 60 years to the day from when the students first attended the school back on Feb. 2, 1959, as Stratford became the first school to defy the state’s policy of “massive resistance” in the face of the Brown v. Board of Education decision banning school segregation.
The program will include remarks from School Board Chair Reid Goldstein and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, as well as three of the four students who first integrated the school: Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson. The fourth, Lance Newman, passed away last fall.
The program also includes a performance by the H-B Woodlawn Choir and participants from the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Visual Arts contest reading essays they prepared. Arlington Public Art will also be distributing free 60th anniversary commemorative letterpress prints created by visiting artist Amos Kennedy.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. for anyone hoping to examine artifacts and art from the civil rights era, with the formal program beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The gathering comes at a time of great change for the Stratford property. With H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs set to move to a new building in Rosslyn for the new school year, the site will soon become home to a new middle school.
The School Board decided late last year to name the building for Dorothy Hamm, an Arlington-based civil rights activist who fought for the integration of Stratford. However, the Board attracted some backlash by stripping any reference to Stratford from the building’s name, given the term’s connection to Robert E. Lee and his family home of Stratford Hall.
Photo via Arlington County
(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) Arlington’s School Board will name a new Cherrydale middle school after civil rights activist Dorothy Hamm, opting against including any reference to the historic Stratford School on the new building’s site.
Following the Board’s unanimous vote yesterday (Thursday), the school will open next year as “Dorothy Hamm Middle School.” It’s set to be located at 4100 Vacation Lane, the former home of the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs, and should hold about 1,000 students.
Though the process of naming the building hasn’t drawn quite as much controversy as the renaming of Washington-Lee High School, the debate has nonetheless raised familiar questions about how the county grapples with its history. The “Stratford” name presented a particularly thorny option for the Board to consider, as it has a bit of a complex legacy.
Many people around the community hoped to see the Stratford name stay attached to the new school, considering its significance in the civil rights movement in Virginia. The original Stratford Junior High School (which remains on the site) was the first school in the state to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision, marking the beginning of the end of Virginia’s policy of “massive resistance” to desegregation.
Yet the original school was named after Stratford Hall, the childhood plantation home of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, making some uncomfortable with the name’s connection to Lee’s legacy of defending slavery. After all, the Board voted just a few months ago to strip Lee’s name from W-L over similar concerns.
Accordingly, Hamm emerged as an alternative choice, given her role in fighting to integrate Stratford. Her children attended the school soon after its desegregation, and Hamm also supported a series of other court challenges to Jim Crow-era laws in Arlington.
“What I really love is that this was a story of the moms of Arlington, who heard from their children,” said School Board member Barbara Kanninen. “They wanted to know why they couldn’t attend this school. That’s why they stood up and fought. By naming this building after Dorothy Hamm, we’re honoring the fight, rather than the place. I think it’s going to be a terrific message that we’re sending to the students of that school, and I think that’s something to be excited about.”
But in ditching the Stratford name entirely, the Board cast aside the recommendation of an advisory committee convened to offer recommendations for the school’s moniker. The group suggested either naming the building simply “Stratford Middle School” or the lengthier “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” to ensure a reference to the “Stratford” remained.
Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento proposed that the Board accept the latter option, but Kanninen made a motion to remove the “Historic Stratford Building” section of the name. That passed, but only on a narrow, 3-2 margin, with Talento and Board Chair Reid Golstein dissenting.
“I find it a bit incongruous that we all like the Dorothy Hamm name because we’re lauding the significant, dynamic and historic actions of Dorothy Hamm in the desegregation activity and, at the same time, setting aside the Stratford name, which is equally a part of the significant desegregation history here,” Goldstein said.
Dean Fleming, a friend of the Hamm family who has also been active in organizing opposition to the W-L name change, also told the Board that Hamm’s daughter, Carmela, is “not interested in having her mom’s name on school.” Dorothy Hamm herself passed away in 2004.
Instead, Fleming said her daughter suggested creating a “hall of honors” at Stratford to honor the family’s legacy, while preserving the original name of the building.
Yet Board member Nancy Van Doren argued that the school system has already sketched out an extensive plan for creating an “interpretative trail” and other memorials on the new school’s grounds to ensure that the full history of the Stratford building is available to students.
Though some historic preservation groups around the county have protested any removal of the Stratford name, Van Doren believes the new building will not lack for commemorations of its integration history.
“Those will all be up at the time the building opens,” Van Doren said. “And because it will all be physically there, on the site, I don’t think we need the ‘at the Historic Stratford School’ section of the name.”
“Washington-Loving” might’ve earned a committee’s blessing as the ideal new name for Washington-Lee High School, but members of the group say the process of reaching that recommendation was anything but smooth sailing.
Two members of the W-L renaming committee even ended up resigning from its ranks, decrying the group’s work to find a new name for the school as a process that was tainted from the time deliberations started this September.
Other members of the committee argue that the group had some passionate disagreements at times, but generally reached a fair consensus on a name for W-L. Regardless of exactly where the truth lies, however, the dispute marks yet another complication in a process that’s been characterized by plenty of fierce debate ever since the School Board’s June vote to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.
“I am departing with disgust about a morally bankrupt process that has been directed, not facilitated,” Patrice Kelly, a W-L parent, wrote in a letter resigning from the committee provided to ARLnow. “Between the chilling of discussions, the manipulative process, the disregarding of solicited public opinion and the pressure to conform to the unstated mandate, I have concluded that this process is a disingenuous attempt to appear that public input was sought.”
The chief concerns of Kelly and Bill Moser, a W-L alumnus who resigned from the committee once it finished its work last week, are that the committee failed to give any consideration of the prospect of keeping the name the same, or finding another historical figure with the name “Lee” as a substitute.
Both were also frustrated that one of their fellow committee members had ties to the school system, albeit indirectly, which they felt showed that the Board was unduly influencing the process. Dana Raphael, the daughter of former Board member Abby Raphael, represented recent W-L alumni on the committee.
“I won’t say that she orchestrated the process… but I do wonder about the whole thing,” Moser told ARLnow.
Raphael, for her part, feels that such assertions are ridiculous. She says she became interested in the battle over the W-L name when the Board was deliberating the issue this summer, particularly because she’s believed that the name should be changed ever since she was a freshman at W-L.
And as for her mother, Raphael says “she’s had no role in the facilities policy or the renaming,” particularly since she left the Board in 2015.
“Her commitment to public service inspired me when I was in high school to take an active role in my community, in politics and in current events,” Raphael wrote in an email. “I applied to join the renaming committee because I wanted to ensure the process considered the history of the school and the legacy of Jim Crow, as well as ensure we centered a conversation about civil rights.”
Raphael also argues that it wasn’t part of the group’s mission to consider the prospect of keeping the name, noting the group had “no authority to ‘overturn’ or ‘nullify’ the School Board’s decision to replace ‘Lee.'” She added that a neutral facilitator brought on by the school system to guide the process made such a point clear “at every single meeting.”
“It was out of our control,” said Chloe Slater, a junior at W-L representing current students on the committee. “The point was to choose a new name, because that’s what the School Board decided. Some people didn’t understand that aspect.”
Even still, Kelly and Moser were frustrated that the committee was directed to ignore comments submitted in public surveys about the process that pushed for the name to stay the same. Kelly even felt that the committee was dissuaded from any consideration of feedback asking the group to pick another “Lee” to honor.
But Linda Erdos, a School Board spokeswoman and a staff liaison to the committee, says the group decided on its own not to move forward with another “Lee” option.
The committee considered people like “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a Revolutionary War general, or William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. Yet Erdos said the group ultimately decided that picking another “Lee” would feel too much like “smoke and mirrors” after the Board’s decision. William Lee, in particular, ended up among the committee’s top choices, but did not advance in the group’s final round of voting.
“We thought, if we’re going to make a change, why not make it be a big one, why not make it be amazing?” Slater said.
Slater, the daughter an interracial couple herself, was quite pleased that the committee settled on a name to honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who managed to successfully challenge Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in court. It helped, too, that replacing “Lee” with “Loving” meets the desire of many students to keep the “W-L” moniker intact, Slater said.
Raphael said she was willing to consider other names beyond those that would’ve preserved the school’s W-L acronym — abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the lone finalist to be considered whose name didn’t begin with “L” — but she believes “Loving” is a fine choice to honor ‘those who fought for equality and equal citizenship.”
“I would be proud to tell people that I graduated from Washington-Loving High School,” Raphael said.
Moser takes a considerably dimmer view of the committee’s recommendation. He felt the group was too “racially fixated,” primarily submitting African American historical figures for consideration, even though the W-L student body has a large Hispanic population as well.
He also sees the “Loving” name as a “totally inappropriate and ridiculous” and viewed it as “a joke as far as I was concerned,” considering that he doesn’t think much of the Lovings and their fight to end the interracial marriage ban.
“The rationale for them was they wanted to be happy and they were willing to break the law to do so,” Moser said. “These were not people of high stature. They didn’t accomplish anything other than being in an interracial relationship.”
Moser’s skepticism regarding the Lovings aside, Erdos believes the committee’s deliberations were generally quite civil. Given the legal wrangling and political battles that have so far marked the renaming process, she says that was (generally) a pleasant surprise.
“I really was bracing for some difficult meetings,” Erdos said. “But, quite honestly, I was surprised it went as well as it did.”
The Board plans to discuss the name change for the first time on Dec. 20, and vote on Jan. 10.
Arlington school officials will soon decide on a name for the new middle school to be built on the site of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale — but the complex history of the building, and its original name, has divided the community over which option is best.
A naming committee settled on three options for the 1,000-seat school in October, ahead of the building’s planned opening next fall. But that collection of parents and community members hasn’t been able to settle on a definitive recommendation as the School Board gears up for a vote on the matter.
The 28-member committee was instead split down the middle on two options for the building: naming it simply “Stratford Middle School,” or dubbing it “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building.”
The group initially considered “Legacy Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” as an option, but that choice fell out of favor as the process advanced. The committee even floated the compromise possibility of naming the building “Stratford-Hamm Middle School,” but stopped short of recommending such an option.
The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, currently houses the H-B Woodlawn program, but was once the site of Stratford Junior High School. That’s believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, lending plenty of historic significance to the site and its name.
But the “Stratford” name itself comes from a considerably darker part of the nation’s past. The name is derived from Stratford Hall, the plantation home of Robert E. Lee and his family in Westmoreland County.
Considering that the school system is in the midst of a contentious process to strip Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School, any association with the Confederate general has the potential to kick off a new firestorm of controversy in the county. Accordingly, some members of the naming committee championed naming the building after Dorothy Hamm, a civil rights activist who helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford.
“The event signified the end of massive resistance in the commonwealth of Virginia and dealt a powerful blow to the opponents of racial equality nationwide,” Ellen Smith, the incoming principal of the new middle school, wrote in a letter to the Board. “While Hamm was the community activist at the forefront of the campaign to integrate Arlington Public Schools, she was not the only community activist that was determined to integrate Arlington schools so that all students would have the opportunity to receive an equal education.”
Smith noted in her letter that the committee was determined to see “Stratford” remain part of the name somehow, in order to maintain “the clear connection between the name of the school” and its historic integration. But by including it only as addendum beyond Hamm’s name, Smith wrote that some on the committee fear it will be “dropped from regular use.”
That’s why many would much rather simply name the school “Stratford.” The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board endorsed such an option, castigating the school system in a letter for even considering the possibility of a name other than Stratford “without any apparent prior consideration of the uniqueness and the historical and cultural significance” of the site.
A special committee convened by Superintendent Patrick Murphy to debate “Historic Interpretation at the Former Stratford Junior High School” reached a similar conclusion, noting that the school has earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
“That the Stratford name comes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee is an uncomfortable part of the history, but not the most important part,” Susan Cunningham, the co-chair of that committee, wrote in an email to ARLnow. “As community historian Dr. Arnold Taylor reminds us, ‘We have to understand where we are coming from so we can appreciate where we are going’… Names matter. History matters. At Stratford, the civil rights history matters most.”
Smith urged the Board to consider the opinions of both the commission and the review board, but otherwise would not take a firm position beyond suggesting one of the two names.
The Board will discuss naming options for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 6), with a final vote set for Dec. 20.