1961: Drew Elementary Expansion
Only a few years after the desegregation of Stratford, the next issue to divide the county over race and the school system came from what might seem an unlikely source: a portion of a planned bond issue to improve and expand Drew Elementary School in Arlington’s historically Black Nauck/Green Valley neighborhood.
In 1961, the School Board proposed that a section of an upcoming bond issue be put toward a 22-room addition to the extant Drew School and a consolidation of the Drew, Kemper, and Drew Annex schools, which were all in the same general neighborhood. The local NAACP, the Nauck Civic Association, and the Jennie Dean Community Center, among others, opposed the plan.
It might strike the reader as strange that the NAACP would in 1961 be spearheading an effort to oppose improvements to a Black school when, as recently as the Carter case in 1950, they had been suing the School Board for exactly that. But Brown v. Board of Education changed everything, especially the NAACP’s approach to how best to improve schooling for Black students.
Prior to Brown, the Plessy ruling was still the law of the land. “Separate but equal” was viewed, legally, as fair and constitutional and was used as a standard for judging whether a law or policy was legal under the 14th Amendment. Facing this reality, the NAACP’s best strategy was to prove that facilities and educational opportunities for Black students were unequal.
After Brown, however, the NAACP’s goals changed. Integration was seen as the best means to attain quality education for Black students—they could simply go to the schools that were already systemically better.
The Black communities in south Arlington were not completely unified around the rejection of the Drew Elementary expansion, however. For some in these communities, it seemed a good idea to improve and expand the neighborhood elementary school, even if it was segregated.
The NAACP responded with an education campaign. The expansion, the group argued, would make the school too large to be manageable, at almost 1,200 students. This was by far larger than any other elementary school in the county. They pointed to a recommendation from the National Educational Association that elementary schools should ideally be limited to around five hundred students. Even with 22 new rooms, they further argued, 1,200 students would result in an unmanageable number of students in each classroom.
Opponents of the expansion suggested an alternative: a new school to be built about a mile northeast of Drew on the site of Douglas Park. Because of its location, this new school would draw equally from nearby white and Black neighborhoods and would lessen the overcrowding of Drew and Kemper.
As the NAACP attempted outreach within the Black community, white allies of desegregation tried to spread the same message to white Arlingtonians. The Reverend Richard H. Redman, minister of the Unitarian Church of Arlington, delivered a sermon on the topic in October of 1961.
The movement against the Drew expansion found its most powerful white proponent in School Board member James Stockard. He went on record calling the expansion “discriminatory” and a “segregation move.” In one Board meeting Stockard declared that if the plans for expansion went forward he would “have to exert [m]y full influence in this county toward defeat of the school bond issue.”
NAACP representative Robert Alexander called out in response, “At least there’s one Christian in the house!”
Ultimately, however, Stockard was outnumbered. The Board approved the measure, and when it went up for a vote before the county’s general population on November 7, 1961, the bond issue was approved. The county would move forward with plans for the Drew expansion.
Construction of the Drew expansion began in 1963.