1959-1962: Desegregating Sports and Dances
Even with the schools technically desegregated, certain elements of day-to-day school life were still segregated. Dances and athletics in particular were for a period eliminated at all desegregated schools. Such activities were a particular source of fear for segregationists, as both put students’ bodies in close proximity.
For people who opposed integrated schools due to the racist specter of miscegenation—who feared that integrated schools threatened “racial purity” by encouraging mixed-race relationships—the idea of integrated sports, and especially integrated dances, was particularly worrisome.
This refusal to desegregate certain elements of school life, even in the face of Judge Bryan’s order, was supported by a Massive Resistance-era law passed in Richmond. School Board member and attorney L. Lee Bean read the law—Joint Resolution #97—during a School Board meeting on September 21, 1959: “No athletic team of any public free school should engage in any athletic contest of any nature within the State of Virginia with another team on which persons of the white and colored race are members…” The Board voted that day to cease all athletic events. The same day, they also voted to stop all school-sponsored dances.
The Board reinstated athletic programs for the 1961-1962 school year, but it was even longer before school dances came back. Meanwhile, other groups in Arlington provided space and opportunity for these important social functions for school children. In an oral history in the collection of the Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History, School Board member James Stockard recalled that Mount Olivet United Methodist Church held dances during the school system’s ban.
In another oral history, Constance McAdam, who at the time worked in the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, discussed a program of integrated dances for teenagers sponsored by the Parks department between 1959 and 1962. McAdam recalls “tension” at some events during the first few years—they even had the police come to keep an eye on things—but reported that the tensions dissipated to a degree over time.