Student Voices Meet School Silence
*Note on terminology: prejudiced language referring to persons of color might be present in this exhibit. Such terminology appears in historical documents.*
The Fairfax County public school system started the process of desegregation in the fall of 1965. This major transformation in education occurred after roughly one hundred years of segregation in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In 1965 the school board and Department of Education co-published a how-to manual to help personnel with the process of desegregation. In general language that skirted issues of racial division, this guidebook presented “the challenge that faces the Fairfax County Schools" as a moment of "recognition of all students, teachers, administrators, and supporting service personnel as individuals in their own right”.
In May 1967, a delegation of four teenagers from the Vienna Teen Council asked the Fairfax County Board of Education to create policies that eased racial hostilities in public schools. Students victimized by racist attacks recounted their experiences. For example, Jerry Thomas, a Black student from Madison High School, told the board about the “white power” incidents at his school involving insults and slurs written on school tables. After hearing such testimonies, the board unanimously condemned acts of racial violence but said that a system-wide approach to address racial conflict was not warranted. Each principal, the board insisted, should confront school-specific problems.
Another article from the 1975 County School Bulletin titled, "Black Students Reinforce Each Other," explained that Black students got into trouble because they were not able to get support from school staff or fellow white students. As it turned out, Black students relied on one another. This article details the extracurricular activities of the Black Cultural Alliance Club at Fort Hunt High School. One quote reveals that minority students in Fairfax County high schools felt that they had "no place in clubs and other organizational activities.” Often formal extracurricular outlets were part of national organizations in which members voted on applicants, thereby enabling racial exclusion to occur, if racists determined club composition. Instead of trying to fight the system in place, Black students - as the title of the article expresses - had to rely on each other and create Black-centric clubs.
Black-student-originated clubs provided community and opportunity. For example, these clubs went on college tours to Southern HBCUs like Shaw and Hampton. Members also participated in Black history week programs and school homecoming celebrations. One item of note in the article is that the school-based groups advertised that they were open to all in Fort Hunt High School. It was important for these Black students to be inclusive.
Herndon High School Incident
On October 22, 1974 a fight broke out between a Black and white male student in the cafeteria of Herndon High School. The scuffle escalated into a melee involving 70 students. Classes were promptly canceled; the school was closed the next day. One student was injured and had to go to the hospital. A newspaper article about the incident speculated on the causes: “Many parents spoke among themselves of the lack of communication among different groups of students between faculty and students and between this school and home.” Blame was placed on school overcrowding. Bullies were also identified as instigators. Full classrooms and mean actors were probably contributing factors but ultimately the fight was triggered by something else.
Reston Black Focus, a community-based organization, took notice. It saw the violent conflict in one of its local public schools as another instance of systemic racism in Fairfax County. The group had formed an education committee, which wrote a report about the Herndon High incident and its likely causes, and then offered possible solutions.
A Few More Voices
These are just a few examples in which students voiced their concerns to principals and administrators, and even the Fairfax County School Board. As Black students were enrolled in previously white schools, it was clear that the schools themselves were not prepared for peaceful and cohesive integration. Black students often felt unwelcome in these new spaces, even in the 1970s. As a consequence, Black students relied on each other and formed group-like communities within these schools.
By Rachel Amon
 A Guide to Intergroup Education, Fairfax County School Board, 1965.
 Bruce Nivens, “Vienna Teens Seek Race Problem Help," The Virginia Sun, May 30, 1967.
 Bruce Nivens, “Vienna Teens Seek Race Problem Help., The Virginia Sun, May 30, 1967.
 “Student Group Asks Board to Promote Racial Peace,” The Virginian Sun, June 1, 1967.
 John Davis, “Coming to Grips with Issues of Discipline, Learning,” October 2, 1973," Fairfax School Bulletin Vol. 10-11. Sept. 1973-June 1975. Fairfax, VA , n.d.
 Virginia Williams, “Black Students Reinforce Each Other," January 1975, Fairfax School Bulletin Vol. 10-11, Sept.1973-June 1975, Fairfax , VA , n.d.
 “HHS Reopens After Tuesday Fight ,” The Reston Times, October 24, 1974.
 Reston Black Focus Education Commitee, Report: Summation of the Problems at Herndon High School And Summation of the Recommendations for the Solution of These Problems. October 22, 1974 (Reston , VA : Reston Black Focus Education Commitee,1974).
 “High School Students Claim Relations Poor," 1977
 Stephen Cohen, “Fairfax School Surveys Elementary Students Charge Discrimination,” The Virginia Sun, July 8, 1977.