“I wasn’t just preparing my students for Wakefield High School, I was preparing them for life,” Brenda Cox told the AFRO on June 18. She was remembering the words George Richardson told her; Wilbert Talley, another former student; and the Central Library staff of Arlington, Virginia when they visited his home in Oklahoma for a video interview.
Richardson, who served as the last principal of segregated Hoffman-Boston from the early 1950s until 1964 in the former Arlington View neighborhood in Virginia, passed away June 12 at the age of 102, according to the Wakefield High School Alumni Facebook page. He celebrated his 102nd birthday on March 1.
Cox, who spent her last year of school at the newly integrated Wakefield High School and graduated in 1965, said integration was difficult on she and the other Black students. “We went from being a community of about 50 students in my graduating class to a class of like 900,” she said. “We were just a number and it was a culture shock.”
During the integration process, Richardson worked with county officials to ensure that his students still received the best education and opportunities possible as well as a seamless transition, according to a program for his 100th birthday celebration in Oklahoma.
Former Hoffman-Boston student and quarterback the Rev. Wilbert Talley, pastor of Third Union Baptist Church in King William, Virginia looks back fondly the impact Richardson had on his life and transition from a segregated school to an integrated life. “We always felt like someone had our back,” Talley told the AFRO on June 19. “He was supremely a humanitarian who cared about us. Even if we rejected what he was calling us to do, we knew he did it because he cared.”
A graduate of Langston University, the only historically Black college in the state of Oklahoma, Richardson went on to get his master’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He dedicated 40 years his life to educating and mentoring the Black youth in his care and his community.
According to a Dec. 11, 2013 Sun-Gazette article, Arlington County received historical documents from Richardson that included photographs of the school and sports activities, newspaper clippings, and the video interview that now reside in Arlington’s Central Library as the “George Melvin Richardson Collection.”
During his lifetime, he’s received a number of awards and honors including the Outstanding Community Service Award from the Greater Washington Urban League, and the Charles P. Monroe Civil Rights Award from the NAACP. Oklahoma Gov. George Nigh appointed Richardson as the first “lay” person to serve on the Bond Advisory Committee and Urban Land Institute and is the former chairman of Tabernacle Baptist Church Trustee Board. A World War II veteran, Richardson also served as a first lieutenant with the 92nd Infantry Division.
He was one of the leaders of what was perhaps Arlington’s most significant neighborhood conservation and improvement endeavor, which has been designated as the “Richardson Addition to Arlington View,” according to his 100th birthday celebration program.
Richardson was also the oldest living member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity until his passing and was a charter member of Alexandria/Fairfax Chapter. Sidney Ricks, 63, of Fairfax Station, Virginia, also a charter member, was happy to call Richardson his brother. “He was a visionary who brought structure and organization for the chapter,” Ricks told the AFRO on June 22. “He used his educational skills and people skills to set the foundation for the chapter even 39 years later. He was a pillar of the community whose primary focus was on community service. He truly embodied the principals of Kappa.”
Richardson was recently inducted into the Wakefield High School Hall of Fame in 2015 as its former assistant principal from 1965-67. According to the Arlington County Government, Hoffman-Boston High School later reopened as Hoffman-Boston Elementary School and is still part of the Arlington County schools.
His services were held in Oklahoma City, June 18 where he was then buried. He was a native of Holdenville, Oklahoma, according to Temple & Sons Funeral Directors Inc.