Arlington On Saturday, Oct.13, the Arlington Branch National Association of Colored People (NAACP) will honor former Arlington educator Joseph Macekura at its 66th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet for his work helping to integrate Arlington Public Schools, most notably helping four African-American students enroll in Stratford Junior High School (now known as H-B Woodlawn Secondary School), which made it the first school in Virginia to be integrated.
At the banquet Macekura will be awarded the Arlington Branch’s The Charles P. Monroe Civil Rights Award, which is presented to “an individual, group or organization who has at sometime in the past committed a noble act or demonstrated in some way to enforce and influence civil rights for persons within Arlington County,” stated a letter written to Macekura by the Arlington Branch NAACP’s president, Elmer L.H. Lowe, Sr.
“It is the opinion of our membership that you are truly deserving of this award for your actions in the planning and training both parents and students in preparing for integration. With this training, on Feb. 2, 1959, you, assisted four black students who entered Stratford Junior High School now H-B Woodlawn Junior High School without incident,” said Lowe. “Due to your brave and courageous act, Stratford Junior High School became the first racially integrated school in Virginia.”
MACEKURA REFLECTED on his life and his work in integrating the school system in Arlington County.
Macekura was born in 1921 in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. His “working-class” family consisted of 10 people, including his mother and father. He said his hometown was very close knit and integrated. He said that blacks and whites in the town got along with each other.
“They [the blacks] were our friends,” said Macekura. “If one our parents or mothers or sisters were baking something; some buns or cookie or something like that, we’d say, ‘Come on over.’”
Macekura said that the first time that he became involved in civil rights, or as he said it was called back then, “being fair,” was when he was in high school. One year when people were auditioning for a school play titled “White Cloud,” the person who was decided to best for the male lead was a black student named Charles. However, some people, including the school principal, were concerned about putting on a play titled “White Cloud” with a white woman and a black man as the two leads, which we involve them kissing and touching each other.
Macekura said that he and the editor of school newspaper told the principal that if Charles did not get the lead, they threatened to write an article in the school paper and have it published in the local daily newspaper saying that Charles “was not selected because he was black.” The principal eventually backed off, and Charles got the part.
“Our feeling was what was fair was fair,” said Macekura. “We were involved in civil rights, which means everybody is equal … everybody has rights under the Constitution.”
AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, Macekura went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1942-1946. After leaving the Army, he attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. on the GI Bill and earned two bachelor’s degrees. He decided to become a teacher so he could afford to pursue his interest in being a writer.
“I did want to write, but I have a nasty habit of eating. In writing, once in a while you can starve yourself,” said Macekura.
He started working for Arlington Public Schools in 1950 when he accepted a job offer at Stratford Junior High School. In the time that he worked at Stratford from 1950-1965, he was a teacher, a counselor, head counselor, and an assistant principal. He would also serve as a principal at other schools in Arlington until his retirement in 1984.
“Our feeling was what was fair was fair. We were involved in civil rights, which means everybody is equal … everybody has rights under the Constitution.” — Joseph Macekura
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional. The ruling required that all public schools in the U.S. be segregated. However, states in the South, including Virginia, opposed were opposed to the ruling. In 1956, U.S. Sen. Harry Byrd Sr. coined the term “Massive Resistance,” which called fighting against any orders to integrate the schools. That same year, the Virginia General Assembly passed a series of “Massive Resistance” laws that would cut off state funds and close any public schools that tries to integrate.
On Feb. 2, 1959, four black students entered Stratford; The Alexandria Gazette reported on that day that they “entered without incident.” The mood was described by Macekura as being “excellent.” He said that the four students were “very mature” for 12-year-olds and “very calm very quiet, not nervous.” Macekura said there was no violence, and while some of the white students did express their resentment of the black students, there were white students who did try to reach out to them. He believes that prejudice is something that will always exist.
“Prejudice was there in ’59; it’s there in 2012,” he said. People will always find “some reason to demean some people who are different from themselves.”
As to why the integration at Stratford happened without any of the violence that occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas’s attempt to integrate a high school in 1957, which required the presence of federal troops to be implemented, Macekura said that there were two reasons for that.
The first reason was the “demography of the community. It was a very mixed one. People from all over the country … It was not a homogeneous kind of community. Number two, being that it was that, the people that were going to be responsible for the integration, the actual integration, had the same type of attitude [about it].”
Also, he credits much of the success of integration at Stratford to Claude Richmond, the principal. “He went around the school; He saw every staff member … and he asked them, ‘This is what’s going to happen here [integration]. Do you have any sincere, deep problems with this?’” according to Macekura.
He said that Richmond wanted Stratford to be integrated, despite being a “good ol’ boy” born and raised in the South. “He was never given credit,” according to Macekura, because he was viewed as someone who was brought over to Stratford “to be a part of the group that was going to keep things the way they used to be.”
However, Macekura saw that Richmond was proud of what had been done at Stratford.
“After everybody went home on Feb. 2, and he and I were left alone in the school… he [Richmond] said ‘Joe, it’s done. It’s done, finally.’ He looked at me with tears down his cheeks,” said Macekura. “I don’t know what went on inside, but it had to be something that he had believed in.”