Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Here is a new wrinkle to the well-reported tale of the 1959 integration of Virginia public schools that unfolded at Arlington’s Stratford Junior High.

It comes to me from Mike Broder, son of longtime Arlingtonians David and Ann Broder, he has built a career to become “dean” of national political reporters; she has served eight years in the Arlington school board and working as a frequent election official.

Recall that in the 1950s, Virginia’s officials embraced the “massive resistance” to the nationwide school integration ordered under the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling. In Arlington, black families, the NAACP and white activists teamed up to litigate against the continuing segregation of local schools. The ultimate result was that four black students—Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Donald Deskins and Lance Newman—on Feb. 2, 1959, braved police presence and heavy press coverage and to enroll at the all-white school that today is Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

The Broders, who met while earning master’s degrees at the University of Chicago, came to Arlington in 1955 so that David could begin his journalism career at Congressional Quarterly. They began a family while living in the Barcroft Apartments on Columbia Pike, Mike reports. While following the state drama over pro-segregation Gov. J. Lindsay Almond Jr.’s decision to close some school systems rather than integrate, the Broders were looking for a larger home. The owners of a property at 4207 N. 23rd St. were desperate to sell, they learned, for fear that the impending integration of Stratford—on their doorstep on Vacation Lane—would turn violent like the September 1957 integration of schools in Little Rock, Ark.

“They were surprised and grateful to learn of the distressed sale of a lovely home in North Arlington with a nice backyard and close to schools whose price was within their limited reach,” the son says. “Their one act of due diligence was to check with their future home insurance provider about the possibility of acquiring riot insurance. They learned they could add a riot insurance rider for $60.”

David Broder’s journalism afforded him contacts at the Evening Star. So he had a brainstorm. Their new home would offer ringside seats to the drama of the coming integration of Stratford, access to which for reporters would be limited by police. He phoned an editor: Would news hounds in the afternoon daily be interested in beating their competition via an on-the-scene outpost? The Star offered the Broders $100 to rent their basement and backyard for a day.

“Integration Starts Quietly in Arlington,” read the paper’s front page the evening of Feb. 2. As it turned out, the arrival of the new students—though tense for many — was peaceful.

The Broders wrote a letter to Gov. Almond marveling on how smoothly the integration had been achieved. And though that letter has been lost, the governor’s reply dated Feb. 18, 1959, reads: I am pleased also that there was no disorder when Federal courts forced the admission of a few Negroes into Stratford Junior High School. I am sure that after living here for three years you have observed that Virginians attempt to obey the laws just as earnestly as they resist encroachments upon their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

That letter is bound for Arlington’s Center for Local History.


 At the Columbia Pike Blues Festival June 17, Arlington poet laureate Holly Karapetkova took the stage to present the new compendium “Words of the World.” The published verses, dealing with youth identity, body image and diversity, were written during the pandemic lockdown by Arlington high schoolers she mentored, some 38 at Yorktown, Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and H-B Woodlawn. After some public readings, the volume goes on sale June 30.

As proof you’re never too old to come out as a poet, my retired friend Roy Gamse last year printed up a set of his poems on “Talking Frogs, Tall Tales and True stories,” which deal with civil rights and his family eccentricities.