Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Jackson Sasser

Committee Members

Christine Nemacheck

Jody Allen


Brown v. Board of Education overturned the long-enforced “separate but equal” doctrine forcing school systems to decide exactly how much they would comply with the holding that segregated public schools were no longer constitutional. Several states, Virginia among them, relied on pupil placement boards to deny the transfer of many Black students to primarily white schools. Some localities’ violent resistance to any desegregation is still reflected in the prevalent de facto school segregation 66 years after Brown. My thesis examines the reaction of Arlington County, a small, liberal area just outside Washington, D.C. that boasts about being the first integrated school district in Virginia. Desegregating Arlington’s schools was not met with the same physical violence that many saw in other counties in the South, resulting in claims of successful and quiet desegregation. However, the history is more complicated.

In my thesis, I will examine how Arlington County came to desegregate. I believe this boils down to three main reasons: an overall demographic shift within Arlington preceding school desegregation, prior legal action within the county, and a web of preexisting interest group networks. Next, I will provide an analysis of interest group work through the lens of Derrick Bell’s interest convergence theory, ultimately answering my main question of why desegregation work slowed following early tokenistic school segregation. Finally, I will look at the case of school desegregation through a modern lens, applying my findings to activism and interest groups within the current Covid-19 pandemic.