All Work and No Play

In 1949, Arlington established a formal Department of Recreation for the rapidly growing and developing county. However, the classes, clubs and activities sponsored by the department mirrored the school system and were segregated. In 1950, a formal “Negro Recreation Section” was created “with a special emphasis on sports.” Its director was Ernest E. Johnson, who was a central figure for African-Americans in Arlington who wished to participate in the Department’s programs.

Johnson expanded the Negro Recreation Section to include classes for children in not only a variety of sports, but dance, theater and music (including accordion classes), and community events like teen beauty pageants and parades. He was forward-thinking, documenting many of these activities in the early to mid-1950s with professional photographs; a collection of 78 of these images are held in the Community Archives. Johnson oversaw the development of Jennie Dean field and a new recreation center at Hoffman-Boston on S. Queen St. This center later became known as the Carver Center. Johnson’s activities stretched beyond the Department of Recreation. He was the leader of Arlington’s first African-American Cub Scout Pack (#589), chartered in April of 1952.

For the 1962-1963 fiscal year, the Negro Recreation Section was quietly changed to the Carver Section, with Johnson still as its supervisor. In 1964, the Negro Recreation Section disappeared in a department reorganization; Johnson became Supervisor of the Centers Section, overseeing “teen clubs, free classes and meetings of non-Department sponsored clubs in the centers.” With no fanfare at all, the county’s Department of Recreation had become desegregated and Johnson was integrated into the department’s existing administration.

Ernest Johnson continued to serve Arlington County, and on May 8, 1982, Arlington celebrated Ernest E. Johnson Day with a parade that ran from the Walter Reed Recreation Center to the Carver Recreation Center, a softball game that afternoon, a senior tea and a testimonial dinner that evening. A photograph from the event, showing Johnson (center) and his wife Mignon (left) is shown above. Johnson died in December 1992, after a life to service to the people of Arlington; his work let Arlington play.

This article is courtesy the Arlington Public Library Center for Local History and can be found at: