First students to desegregate Arlington school honored with trail dedication

Four African American pupils, first to breach the color line in the history of Virginia public schools, leave home to attend classes at Stratford Junior High School in Virginia Feb. 2, 1959. They are, from left, Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones. (AP Photo)

The Stratford Commemorative Trail at Dorothy Hamm Middle School, formerly Stratford Junior High, has been dedicated to honor four seventh graders who desegregated the Arlington, Virginia, school back in 1959.

Local officials recognized Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones for their courage, and said the new trail is a reminder of Arlington County’s ongoing effort to advance equity.

Walking along the trail, four panels detail the history made along the original path the students took when they arrived for their first day of school, along with photos and a narrative covering the national, state and local events that led up to the moment.

Jones, speaking at an unveiling ceremony Monday afternoon, said he is proud to see progress in the six decades since.

“There’s still much work to do, however with events such as these we can see, in the future, a more diverse nation, a nation that provides true liberty and justice for all,” Jones said.

E. Leslie Hamm Jr. — son of activist Dorothy Hamm who filed a suit against the Arlington School Board for refusing to comply with the court’s decision in Brown v. Board — thanked the former students and the community for their commitment to change.

His mother’s suit led to the school’s desegregation.

“For all of you who may have come behind us, and who continue to cherish decency and more importantly, democracy, you make us all very, very proud,” he said.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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