The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Arlington’s Stratford Junior High School on February 2, 1958 was held at the school (now known as the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program) last Monday evening.
It was a wonderful and inspiring evening, and exhausting, too. The audience of several hundred Arlingtonians constantly leapt to its feet as the speakers and the great Macedonia Baptist Church Choir and the Mt. Zion Church Youth Liturgical Dance Ministry performed their magic.
After the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision in 1954, Senator Harry Byrd, the leader of the formidable political machine that ran Virginia, declared that Virginia would follow a policy of “massive resistance” and would close any school system that moved towards integration on its own or through court order. At least three local school systems were closed, and Arlingtonians were afraid the same would happen here.
The story of the events leading to that day and the day itself was eloquently told by a panel of community leaders at the time, school employees, and three of the four students who courageously walked through the front door of Stratford. Also on the panel was Governor Timothy Kaine’s wife Ann Holton who told her own story of “reverse” integration in Richmond.
The Richmond schools were forced to integrate in 1970. Many white families pulled their children out of school, but Governor Linwood Holton made a point of sending his children, including Ann Holton, to a public school where she was one of the only white children.
Ms. Holton’s husband, Governor Tim Kaine eloquently spoke of the students who initially integrated Virginia’s schools as the true heroes because they led us into an era of remarkable growth in our educational quality and the expansion of our economy that could only have happened with a truly integrated school system.
Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman was the keynote speaker. Newman, the first African-American member of a local governing body (Arlington’s County Board) was born and grew up in Arlington. He was a third grade student at then segregated Drew school when “doors I didn’t even know existed were closed to me.” He called the integration of Stratford a “Shakespearian drama” of epic proportions when those closed doors opened to him.
Elizabeth Weihe, now a vibrant 94 years old, gave us a white perspective when she told how the League of Women Voters stood up to threats from the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party in full uniform marching the buildings wherever the League met, shouting “White Supremacy” and other obscenities as policemen warned they were in danger.
Governor Kaine quoted William Faulkner when he said that while much has been achieved, much remains to be done. “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” But what was obvious Monday night was Arlington has the desire and capability to continue to move ahead in promoting the educational achievement and cultural diversity that makes a community strong. The integration movement in Arlington in the late 1950’s created a new generation of progressive political leaders, the influence of which is felt strongly in Arlington today.
The entire program was recorded by Arlington Educational Television and will be shown periodically on Arlington’s own television station. I strongly recommend you watch it . You will be moved and you will learn a lot about what made Arlington what it is today.