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Determination of John Alvin Johnson '37 to Integrate Virginia School District in 1950s Documented in Newspaper

September 30, 2005

September 30, 2005, Greencastle, Ind. - "From the time he and his wife moved into Falls Church, [John Alvin] Johnson was intent on doing something about segregation," notes Virginia's Falls Church News-Press. The latest edition of the newspaper carries the first of a two-part profile of Johnson, a 1937 DePauw University graduate, who is credited with integrating the community's schools. "The 1950s struggle to develop and integrate a new school system in the newly-independent City of Falls Church was an heroic and monumental undertaking," the newspaper writes, calling Johnson, who served as the school board's chairman an "unsung champion."

The lengthy story documents the barriers Johnson faced. "With the second Supreme Court Brown Vs. Board of Education ruling in 1955, Johnson, who had been meeting regularly with leaders of the African-American community... thought he saw an opening, since the ruling called for integration with 'all deliberate speed.' On June 2, just three days after the Supreme Court's decision, Johnson, as chairman of the school board, submitted to the boardlongden hall 1927.gif a letter that he'd written and wanted to send to the state Board of Education concerning the integration of the Falls Church schools. In the letter, Johnson noted the small number of African-American students in the Falls Church school district and that there would be little burden placed on the school system from integrating those students into the Falls Church schools. He wrote: 'The Falls Church School Board sees no administrative obstacles to the admission of Negro pupils to the Falls Church public schools. Their number is so small that no increase in either physical facilities or teaching staff would be required for the coming school year if all of them were to be admitted to the Falls Church schools at the opening of school in September 1955.' But despite his arguments for immediate desegregation, the letter was never sent to the state board. The Falls Church School Board voted to delay a decision on the letter and instead voted to send a letter to the state board requesting that they advise them on how to proceed."

The struggle continued until 1961, when Falls Church "became only the second school district in Virginia to admit black students into its classroom."

John Alvin Johnson was a Rector Scholar at DePauw and was awarded an Alumni Citation in 1978. The newspaper notes, "In 1937 he received his bachelor's degree from DePauw University and a year later, while earning his law degree from the University of Chicago, met Harriet, the woman he would be married to for 67 years until his death just this summer," writes Darien Bates. "During World War II, Johnson served as a naval officer on the destroyer USS Robert H. Smith, which took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima in the Pacific campaign. After returning from the war, Johnson went back to school to get his master's degree in law from Harvard University. In 1949, while working for the State Department, Johnson and his wife moved to Falls Church, just as it was becoming an independent jurisdiction. Immediately Johnson became a charter member of the newly forming city."

During his career, John Alvin Johnson also served as general counsel for the Air Force and NASA. "He would later go on to an impressive career in the field of satellite communications, serving as international vice president for the Communications Satellite Corporation (Comsat) then as president of Comsat General Corporation."

Read part one of the profile at the newspaper's Web site.

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