Arlington desegregated and was the first public school system to do so in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is often a point of pride for Arlingtonians, and rightly so.
But it is also important to remember that it took almost eighteen years of activism from the NAACP and Arlington’s Black communities to get to that point. And that it took almost five years for Arlington to desegregate their first school after Brown v. Board of Education.
Likewise, it took another twelve years after the desegregation of Stratford before Arlington had a desegregation plan in place sufficient for a court to consider it in compliance with Brown v. Board of Education.
The story told by the documents presented on this site is one that is complex and occasionally frustrating. But it is a story of progress. Not progress in the form of some slow, natural process, but progress that was hard-won after years of pressure, political maneuvering, and lawsuits by the NAACP and other organizations within the community.
What is heartening is that this sort of pressure worked--that it changed minds and hearts and the material reality of Black students in the county.
It is also heartening to note the role of the white racial moderates in the county. The people who formed the Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools were not of one mind about desegregation. Some members in fact were opposed to it. But they felt that keeping the public schools open was more important than maintaining segregation. The lesson here is that, with enough pressure and activism, the center can, indeed, be moved. That minds can be changed when you show them how they, too, have a stake in the decisions made.
We would love to hear from you. How does this story relate to your story? We hope that this exhibit and these documents will become the start of a broader conversation about segregation in its many forms, about what integration truly means, and about race in Arlington County more broadly.