By Charlie Clark in “Our Man in Arlington” in the Falls Church News Press (used with the permission of the author) Published in October 2012.
High school reunions, for some, commemorate an alma mater that is no longer.
So it was last month at Arlington Central Library when nearly 100 gathered to share memories of Hoffman-Boston High School, the Jim-Crow-era “colored” secondary school that shut its doors in 1964 as the county moved to desegregate.
“We laughed, we cried, and people really rose to the occasion,” I was told by alumnae Brenda Cox, the local real estate agent who organized the event for the Historical Society’s “Arlington Reunion” series. It drew a crowd that blended the universals of school nostalgia with facts of a role on history’s stage.
Founded in 1916 and named for two Arlington educators, Hoffman-Boston began as an elementary school that converted to a high school in the 1930s. “Textbooks were second-hand ones that had been used at the white high schools,” said Cox’s brief history distributed at the reunion. “For a long time, there was no library, and when they finally installed one, it was ill-equipped with books; the science
laboratory was also ill-equipped.”
Also lacking for years were athletic facilities. (Last March, a dozen members of Hoffman Boston’s 1961 undefeated football team were honored at a festival at the Langston-Brown Community Center.)
Sandra Costley Green, one of five speakers at the library, recalled how when she enrolled at Washington-Lee in the early 1960s, school rules blocked blacks from extracurriculars, so she did them at Hoffman-Boston. The school’s choir regularly joined forces with singers from six black churches for an annual holiday concert.
Louise McGregor provided the perspective of teachers (retired at 90, she’s still in Arlington), many of whom were graduates of historically black colleges. Under longtime Principal George Richardson (now in his late 90s), they prepared the “total person” to face the world using a curriculum that was academic, vocational, social and artistic.
“The teachers didn’t treat you like a number,” Cox says. “They interacted with the community. They knew your family, and some would go to your house.”
Vivian Bullock recounted the statewide political drama of how some in Arlington’s “colored” school community served as guardians to black student refugees from Prince Edward County in the late 1950s during Virginia’s “massive resistance” to Supreme Court-ordered desegregation.
Dennis Turner, class of ’64, moved many with a poignant talk about life with the final graduating class.
As noted in the printed program (which included lyrics to the school song), a special video was shown by Arlingtonian Milton Rowe Sr. Back in 1963, he shot several minutes of Super-8 footage of his football- player son and the crowd at Hoffman Boston’s 1963 Homecoming court. He gave it on DVD to the library. Arlington cable recorded the event, which included remarks on the precious occasion by Virginia Room librarian Judy Knudson and George Mason University archivist Robert Vay.
Since Hoffman-Boston’s final graduates were prepped to face integration and transfer to Wakefield High School, the name has lived on. First as an alternative junior high in the 1970s that merged with “hippie high” to become today’s H-B Woodlawn program; and second, since 2000 as the elementary school of the same name.
“We were a tight community,” Cox says. “And we were well educated. Just because it was a black school didn’t mean we were lacking. Teachers recognized what we were dealing with, and they gave more of themselves.”