WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — Four Northern Virginia children broke down a major racial barrier in the Commonwealth sixty years ago this month.
On February 2, 1959, Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman and Michael Jones enrolled at Stratford Junior High School in Arlington County.
The enrollment of the four African-American seventh graders made them the first children of color to integrate an all-white public school in Virginia.
"That was just a step toward getting where we want to be," said Jones.
Jones spoke to more than 200 people at a ceremony to remember the 60th anniversary of the enrollment at the building that use to house Stratford Junior High School Monday night.
Jones had to pass through a police perimeter just to go to school that day, but he said his classes were relatively peaceful.
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He went on to tell the crowd that his parents felt his enrollment in the all-white school was a risk worth taking.
"They knew it was a good thing for us in the long-run," Jones said. "That's why they put all of us through this."
Stratford Junior High School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004 in recognition of its important role in the effort to desegregate Virginia schools.
The school building will soon be renamed Dorothy Hamm Middle School to honor a community leader who fought to integrate schools in Arlington.
Parents, like Steve Parker, said they are thankful for the efforts that were made by people like Jones and Hamm in the past.
"We can all appreciate the fact that we're standing here now in an environment and situation that he helped create," he said.
The anniversary comes as the Commonwealth of Virginia finds itself grappling with yet another racial controversy.
On Friday, the public learned that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had a picture of two people in blackface and a klansman outfit on his college yearbook page. At first, Northam admitted that he participated in the photo as one of the characters. Now, he denies his original claim.
Jones said the entire incident is proof there is more work to be done.
"We're not at the finish line yet," he said.