1956-1959: The Road to Stratford
By 1956, Virginia seemed in many ways to be no closer to desegregating its public schools than it had before Brown v. Board of Education. The NAACP decided it was time to put forward lawsuits to try to make the Commonwealth comply with Brown. The case of Clarissa Thompson v. the County School Board of Arlington was part of an effort to push Virginia school districts where segregation was most vulnerable. The case dragged on, however, bogged down in bureaucracy and legal back-and-forth.
Meanwhile, white racial moderates in the county formed the Arlington Committee to Preserve Public Schools, which later would grow into a statewide organization, the Virginia Committee to Preserve Public Schools. This organization was distinctly agnostic toward the issue of segregation and simply advocated against the closing of public schools, bringing pressure to bear on government officials.
On February 2, 1959, having exhausted all legal and bureaucratic maneuvers, Arlington Public Schools had no choice but to admit four Black pupils into the previously all-white Stratford Junior High School. Perhaps surprisingly, this occurred without protests or negative incident. The state did not shut down Arlington County Public Schools. It is largely remembered, as an oft-repeated headline described it, as “the day nothing happened.”