The march towards school integration in Virginia Public Schools started in 1959, and it faced heavy resistance, with some schools closing down rather than accept African Americans students. Students who helped integrate the first all-white public school in the Commonwealth say it was the work done before them that made it all possible.
There have been generations of African American students to attend Stratford Junior High School in Arlington, Va., Michael Jones was one of the first.
We had to get up early and our parents got us together. We met at the home of Ronnie Deskins, and from there we were driven to Stratford, where we went into the main building and met with the principal,” Jones said.
On February 2, 1950, under the protection of about 85 police officers, Jones, Ronald Deskins, Gloria Thompson and Lance Newman became the first Black students to be admitted into an all-White public school in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The group had been chosen out of about 30 students seeking to integrate Virginia public schools.
“Junior high is stressful as it is, no matter where you go. So for us, though it was a little bit different going from Boston-Hoffman, where we knew a lot of people, to going somewhere were we really stood out,” Jones said, before he humbly explained why he could not take all of the credit.
“At 12-years-old, you don’t really make a lot of decisions for yourself. So it was basically the work of a lot of other people before us who did all this. We were just the beneficiaries of their work,” he explained.
“For me, it was just like going to work, going to do what you had to do, and coming home,” Jones said.
“Coming home to this Halls Hill neighborhood, now known as High View Park,” he added.
“Halls Hill started right after the Civil War in 1866, when slaves who were slaves of Mr. Hall were the only residents of the neighborhood. There were some free people involved, and one of the first things they did was start a church, Calloway Church, which is where we are today,” Wilma Jones-Killgo, Jones’ sister said.
According to Jones, Mount Salvation Baptist Church, the NAACP and the local citizens association were the four bedrock organizations behind the Halls Hill community and their fight against segregated schools.
“This was the first organization started by the black people who were the original residents of Halls Hill,” Jones-Killgo said.
And with that spiritual foundation, Halls Hill became a sanctuary, breeding families willing to take action for change.
“The government had us where you could only access the neighborhood from one street. That was Culpepper Street, and as White neighborhoods were built edging our neighborhood, the government allowed them to basically build walls so we were walled in. But it was kind of like, ‘you thought you buried us, but you didn’t realize we were seeds,'” said Jones-Killgo. “Halls Hill is the very epitome of that kind of phrase. That created a mindset where people were focused on hard work. They were grateful for what they had, but they knew they could be successful.”
Wilma and Michael’s mother, Idabel Jones, was also instrumental in the process.
“Our mother was called to testify before the Virginia State Senate, and given three days to prepare. It was a scary time for my mom, but when she talked about it, she said she knew it was the right thing to do,” Jones-Killgo said.
“Halls Hill definitely gave us roots, but in addition, it gave us everything we needed to branch out and become successful in our world,” she added.
It took 12 years to fully integrate nearly 1,200 African American students with less than 25,000 White students.