DESEGREGATION AND DEATH THREATS: My Father's Role in the Integration of Arlington, Virginia Public Schools
I loved my father.
L. Lee Bean, Jr. was an amazing man, but I didn’t find out exactly how amazing until I was about 16.
Huge change was happening in the US in the 1950s. And on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided any law establishing segregated public schools to be unconstitutional. Every public school in America was required to integrate.
Southern states, to no one's surprise, refused to comply with the Court order. And thus began a long and painful stand-off. Virginia was one of those states who liked it's segregation very much and had firmly established Jim Crow laws to make every aspect of Black Americans' lives difficult. Black public schools provided a sub-par education. Black Virginians also had sub-par housing, because it was difficult for them to get loans. Hard for them to get good paying jobs, because businesses were segregated. The list goes on (Visit "The Story of Segregation and Desegregation in Arlington" for further information).
My father - known as Lee - was a practicing attorney in Arlington in the '50s, and in 1957 - the year I was born - he was elected to the Arlington, Virginia School Board.
Arlington Democrats liked Lee, because he was known as a moderate and a general, all around great guy... but their opinion didn't count for much.
Republicans held the majority in Arlington, and they wanted my father on the Board, They had an ace up their sleeve: they knew if the School Board had to deal with the integration issue, my father would be between a rock and a hard place. If Lee voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration, he'd break Virginia state law and lose his license to practice. Neat, eh? Republicans were positive he'd keep things just as they were.
There were five members of the school board in 1959 - two ready to vote for, and two against.. And then there was my father - smack in the center. And when the vote came up, he voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration.
After that vote, our family received death threats and my father waited to lose his law license. But he never did lose his license. Instead the Arlington decision became part of a domino effect, and Virginia began to change.
Years later, my father told me the story. And then I asked him why... why with all that danger and tension he went ahead and cast the swing vote to integrate Arlington Public Schools, he paused for a moment. Then he said, "It was a matter of justice".
Yes, he lived his whole life that way, so I understood. And I'm deeply grateful to have been his daughter.
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc. She has written books and plays, an opera's libretto, and book adaptations for the stage. She has degrees and awards and is grateful for all... but sometimes wishes writers and directors were paid a little more.