A sociology professor at Marymount University and a former housing lawyer are poring over century-old property records to locate Arlington’s segregated neighborhoods.
It’s a time-consuming process, but the goal is to map Arlington’s “history of exclusion,” says professor Janine DeWitt.
“Our research is to take a look very closely at a granular level — lot by lot, parcel by parcel — and map the racially restrictive covenants that were in Arlington,” she said during a discussion hosted by the Arlington Historical Society last week. “We want to know the Arlington we’re in right now and how much of that was exclusionary.”
And DeWitt says she and her research partner, Kristin Neun, will not stop “until we find every last one of them and not before.”
This research effort is taking shape while the county grapples with its history of racist zoning policies through the Missing Middle Housing Study. Housing advocates who welcome the study, however, say it’s not enough to integrate neighborhoods that are still restricted as a result of the 20th-century practices DeWitt and Neun are researching.
Until the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racially restrictive covenants illegal and unenforceable, these clauses excluded potential buyers based on their race, ethnicity or religion. Such deeds governed Arlington’s housing market and mostly targeted Black Arlingtonians, while others included Middle Eastern immigrants, Jewish people and Armenians.
These covenants, codified by developers in conjunction with county government, applied to all future property transfers unless a property owner removed them. Only a handful did so after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled these covenants were unconstitutional in 1948.
DeWitt says she and Neun would have started their research at the Arlington County courthouse, leafing through physical pre-1951 property records, but due to Covid they conducted research every way they could until the county wrapped up a two-year project to digitize land records documents.
Even with the digital copies, the records still need to be read and searched by hand.
“Property records are tremendously inconsistent,” DeWitt said. “It’s incredibly difficult to parse this. It requires a high-touch approach.”
Once she and Neun find a deed with a restrictive clause, they match it with a current address and plug it into a map.
So far, they have mapped out covenants on properties in the Arlington Forest and Bellevue Forest neighborhoods. They found covenants for the historic subdivisions of Country Club View, Flower Gardens, Jackson Terrace and Woodlawn Village, which are now part of the Donaldson Run, Penrose, Tara-Leeway Heights and Waycroft-Woodlawn neighborhoods, respectively.
So far, DeWitt and Neun have observed these restrictions date from 1910 — and possibly earlier — all the way until the mid-1950s.
And some deeds were euphemistic, prohibiting occupancy “except for the race for which it is intended,” or prohibiting stables, pig pens, temporary dwellings and high fences.
“It’s amazing how you can vary restricting somebody,” said Neun, a former housing lawyer turned community educator.
Racial exclusion in Arlington tracks with regulations at the state and federal level, Neun said.
When Democrats took control of Virginia state politics in the early 1900s, they championed “homogeneity” — the idea that “homogeneous populations do better, live better, are happier and less risky,” Neun said.
Big Raise for Ballston Startup — “Federated Wireless, the leader in shared spectrum and CBRS technology, today announced that it has secured $58 million in Series D funding. An affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. led the round, with existing investors Allied Minds and GIC, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, also participating.” [Federated Wireless]
Library Spotlights Segregation History — “A new window display at Aurora Hills Library spotlights efforts of some local residents to promote education and literacy during a time of rigid racial segregation across Virginia. The display focuses on the Henry L. Holmes Library, which was founded by Arlington’s African-American community in 1940 and served as the only library resource for the community until the county’s library system was integrated in the late 1940s.” [Sun Gazette]
Bakery Ramping Up for Mardi Gras — “Chef David Guas at Bayou Bakery is ready for Mardi Gras serving up his famous King Cake… The deadline to order your King Cakes is this Saturday.” [WJLA]
It’s Wednesday — Scattered showers before 10 am. Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with wind gusts up to 21 mph. High of 67 and low of 42. Sunrise at 6:50 am and sunset at 5:56 pm. [Weather.gov]
As a fifth generation Arlingtonian and longtime Halls Hill resident, Nadia A. Conyers was thrilled when Lee Highway was renamed Langston Blvd last summer.
Sharing that joy with her daughter Arrington, the 6-year-old was understandably curious. Together, they went looking on Amazon for a kid-friendly book that could help explain why this was a big deal and the accomplishments of the road’s namesake, John M. Langston.
But there was no such book.
“There was a void,” Nadia tells ARLnow. “So, we decided to fill it.”
Arrington’s voice pipes in, explaining what needs to be done when something you need isn’t available.
“You just gotta make it,” she cheerily says.
That’s the genesis of “From Lee Highway to Langston Boulevard,” the new book authored by the mother-daughter team.
The 26-page picture book aimed at young elementary school kids tells the story of John M. Langston, why the road is now named after him, and why that matters.
“It’s a very local book. For kids who live in Arlington, [the dialogue] will resonate with them because they’ll understand the places that are talked about in the book,” Nadia says. “It gives them a good context of how they are part of Black history and how Black history is right here in your neighborhood.”
Halls Hill, where Nadia (and, now, Arrington) grew up, is a historically Black neighborhood in the northern section of the county. For a long time, it was one of the only places in Arlington where African Americans could buy homes, along with Green Valley in South Arlington. In the 1930s, a “segregation wall” was built to separate the Black neighborhood from the surrounding white neighborhoods. A portion of that wall still stands today.
And, for years, a road named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee cut through it.
“As you were walking or driving down Lee Highway, you would start thinking about who Robert E. Lee was and became perplexed about why the road here is named after him,” Nadia says, pausing for a moment. “Angry, even. There are a lot of emotions.”
With the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests that were held across the country in the summer of 2020, it became clear to many that it was time for the road’s name to change.
The renaming effort was led by many Halls Hill residents, including by Nadia’s mother and Arrington’s grandmother Saundra Green. In December 2020, a working group proposed “Loving Avenue” as the new name with the state Senate passing a bill two months later to allow for the change. But the Lovings’ descendants nixed the idea and the group went with one of its alternatives: Langston Blvd.
John M. Langston was an attorney, abolitionist, and one of the most prominent African Americans during the Civil War period. Described once as “Obama before Obama,” Langston was the first Black man to represent Virginia in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“He was an activist. He was a teacher. He was a good person. He was Black,” Arrington says about Langston.
(Updated on 2/19/22) National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) is hosting a virtual conversation about Green Valley’s history on Feb. 24 in connection with Black History Month.
Entitled “Reclaiming the Lost Identity of Arlington County Through the Lens of Green Valley,” the event will “highlight stories of the original creators and innovators who helped build, shape and influence not only the Green Valley community, but also the greater Arlington community.”
Slated to speak are historian Dr. Lindsey Bestebreurtje from the Smithsonian, longtime resident as well as president of the Green Valley Civic Association Portia Clark, and Dr. Alfred Taylor Jr. who recently authored a book about the community’s history.
Bestebreurtje, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, will focus on the development of African American communities in the county at large, while Clark and Taylor will share their personal experiences living in the community and observing firsthand the evolution of Green Valley.
Additionally, the first 100 people who register have the option of getting a free copy of Taylor’s book “Bridge Builders of Nauck/Green Valley.”
“As we celebrate Black History Month, I can think of no better way to commemorate the history of the Black community in Arlington County than by hearing firsthand from those who have spent their lives here,” Tracy Gabriel, President and Executive Director of National Landing BID, said in a press release. “I look forward to Dr. Bestebreurtje’s remarks and to learning from the insights and experiences of Ms. Clark and Dr. Taylor as we work to build a bright and inclusive future.”
Green Valley is one of the county’s oldest historically Black neighborhoods, dating back to 1844. Recently, the community has expressed concern about what some see as a rewriting of Green Valley history in the county’s public art master plan, as well as the lack of transparency in regards to slated changes for the historic Green Valley pharmacy.
There are a number of other events honoring Black History Month taking place in Arlington over the next several weeks. That includes a Sidney Poitier Film Festival at the Shirlington Branch Library, an Arlington Historical Society virtual exhibit exploring the African American experience and a virtual discussion about the legacy of Selena Norris Gray, who a Columbia Pike park was named after.
The sign is being installed by NOVA Parks and will be outside of the retired train caboose along what is now the W&OD trail. The historic marker is a few minutes walk from Bluemont Junction Park’s parking lot at 601 N. Manchester Street.
First in operation in 1859, the W&OD was one of the most popular train lines in the region. It began in Alexandria, cut through Arlington, and terminated in what is today Loudoun County. The railroad closed in 1968, but not before helping to establish a number of Northern Virginia suburbs.
Like other forms of public transportation at the time, the trains were required by Virginia state law to be segregated. A number of these discriminatory laws in the Commonwealth were technically still on the books until early 2020.
As the new sign details, Black passengers (as well as Native Americans) were often forced to sit in the back of the train and curtains were sometimes installed to further separate passengers of different races. Passengers who didn’t adhere to this law were fined and arrested, much like Barbara Pope, who was arrested in Falls Church in 1906 for not sitting in a certain section.
“Knowing our past is important to understanding the present. Injustice and inequity were built into the law and part of everyday life not that long ago,” said Julius D. Spain, NAACP Arlington Branch President, in a press release. “The Arlington Chapter of the NAACP is pleased to partner with NOVA Parks to tell the story of how segregation was part of the rail service that is now the most popular trail in Virginia.”
While a temporary sign was first placed last week, a permanent marker is being installed this week, a NOVA Parks spokesperson tells ARLnow.
A formal unveiling is happening at 10 a.m. this Saturday (Feb. 19). Spain, NOVA Parks leaders, as well as some Arlington County Board members are expected to be in attendance.
“Efforts that educate about the impact of segregationist Jim Crow laws in our community are essential: They remind us of our responsibility to ensure that our parks, transit and other services are inclusive and equitable for the present, and for generations to come,” said County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “I’m honored to join NOVA Parks in recognizing the history of the W&OD railroad and renewing the commitment to make the W&OD trail a welcoming space for everyone.”
Similar signs are being placed along the W&OD trail in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Each sign cost about $1,165 to make and install.
After operating as a railroad for nearly a century, the W&OD was converted into a park and trail starting in 1974. Completed in 1988, the trail stretches about 45 miles from Shirlington to Purcellville.
Today, the W&OD is a popular thoroughfare for walkers, joggers, and bikers so much so that separate paths were created for cyclists and pedestrians in Falls Church. There’s talk of that happening for the trail’s Arlington section as well.
(Updated, 9/30) Local landmark Green Valley Pharmacy is undergoing “extensive renovations” to reopen as a kabob and burger restaurant later this year, both the property and business owners confirmed to ARLnow.
Established in 1952, Green Valley Pharmacy was Arlington’s only pharmacy and lunch counter to serve the Black community during the Jim Crow era.
Muse, a graduate of Howard University School of Pharmacy, opened the business in the 1950s for Black customers who were often at the time not allowed to enter through the front door, if at all, at other Arlington pharmacies.
But in 2017, Muse died and the property deed was transferred over to his daughter, Jesse Al-Amin. The pharmacy has remained shuttered ever since, but that appears to be changing.
In August 2019, Al-Amin agreed to allow Arlingtonian Nasir Ahmad, who also owns establishments in Sterling and Fredericksburg, to rent the building and open a restaurant. Ahmad tells us he previously owned a business across the street from the pharmacy about 20 years ago.
The original thought was to have the building remain as a pharmacy, but there were too many complications with that plan, Al-Amin said, so renting out the building was a good alternative.
She currently lives in Georgia and didn’t want to sell the property.
“A lot of people wanted it,” she told ARLnow, “But I wanted to keep it as a memory of my father.”
It took nearly two years to get all the permits and approvals. Due to the historic nature of the building, all exterior alterations needed to be approved by the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB). To date, according to Historic Preservation Program coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres, no recent applications for exterior alterations have been received by the board.
This past July, a Commercial Tenant Buildout permit was approved by Arlington County. The permit lists “Time Square Grill” as the business name, but Ahmad said that was just a placeholder. The business will be called “Halal Spot” and serve burgers, pizza, and kabobs.
Interior demolition and construction are already underway, as evident by the giant dumpster currently outside of the building. Ahmad anticipates that the restaurant will open prior to January 1, 2022.
He’s planning to keep pretty much the same layout, including putting the food counter in the same place as the pharmacy lunch counter, in homage to Muse.
“I want to match it up as much as I can,” he says. “For memory’s sake.”
The restaurant will also have a display honoring Doc Muse and the Green Valley Pharmacy, according to both Al-Amin and Ahmad, which they say is a better outcome than complete demolition or another business that wouldn’t acknowledge the building’s history.
“She didn’t want a big company, like a McDonald’s, to go there and destroy everything,” says Ahmad.
Hat tip to Dion Mitchell
A new timeline from Arlington County tracks how local policy decisions in the 20th Century disadvantaged people of color, particularly Black residents.
The county has released two timelines, spanning 1930-45 and 1946-60, which recount how policies and projects — touching on housing, education, transportation, planning and infrastructure — segregated Arlington. It also chronicles how Black residents responded by investing in their communities, getting into local government, protesting and going to the courts.
“This timeline will allow us to take inventory of who we are, where we have been, and how we are growing and evolving as we normalize, organize and operationalize racial equity,” said Arlington’s Chief Race and Equity Officer Samia Byrd. “It will help ground us in facts, communicate the importance of why we lead with race in addressing systemic inequities as a government, and remind our community that racism is real and why it matters.”
Once complete, the historical resource will span from the early 1600s to present day. For now, here are some of the important events that the county included from 1930-45:
- 1930s: The Hall’s Hill “Segregation Wall,” separating the majority-white neighborhood of Woodlawn and the majority-Black neighborhood, goes up.
- 1931-32: Route 50 is built and the streetcars between Washington D.C. and Mount Vernon are shut down, cementing the county’s racial divides.
- 1932: Hoffman-Boston Junior High School opened and would later become a high school. Up until this point, Black students’ education ended after primary school.
- 1932: After switching from an appointed County Board to an elected one, Dr. Edward T. Morton, the county’s first Black physician, became one of the first Black Arlingtonians to run for office. (It took 55 years for a Black candidate to win a County Board election.)
- 1940s: Pentagon construction displaced 225 African-American families, or 810 people. They were relocated to two trailer camps near Columbia Pike and in Green Valley.
- 1943: Without public transit, and with lower rates of car ownership, Black residents founded Friendly Cab in Green Valley and Crown Cab in Hall’s Hill to connect their communities to the region.
While Arlington recently honored the story of four students who desegregated Stratford Junior High School in 1959, the road to desegregating schools, mired in lawsuits and bureaucracy, began more than a decade prior and continued after their first day.
From 1946-60, here are some significant moments related to the struggle for an equal, integrated Arlington:
- 1946: D.C. ruled that Arlington students attending D.C. schools would have to pay tuition. Many Black Arlingtonians sent their kids to D.C. schools because they had more resources than the county’s segregated public schools.
- 1947: Constance Carter sued the Arlington School Board because facilities at the all-Black Hoffman-Boston High School were unequal to those at the all-white Washington-Lee High School.
- 1950: A federal judge reversed the district court’s ruling in favor of the School Board. The county was forced to invest in segregated Black schools and Black teachers were given the same salary as white instructors.
- 1951: Fire Station 8, the all Black-volunteer fire station that served Black communities, received its first county-paid firefighter — 10 years after the other stations.
- 1953: The Veteran’s Memorial YMCA pool opened, serving “non-white” residents barred from other county facilities. The county opened its first integrated community center at Lubber Run Park in 1956.
- 1960: A sit-in at the People’s Drug Store in Cherrydale protesting segregated lunch counters kicked off a month of sit-ins. Woolworth’s store in Shirlington was the first to announce it was desegregating; 21 lunch counters followed suit.
Arlington Agenda is a listing of interesting events for the week ahead in and around Arlington County. If you’d like your event considered, fill out the event submission form to submit it to our event calendar.
Monday, June 14
Arlington County’s Election System — Models for Reform (Part I)*
Time: 7-9 p.m.
Arlington Civic Federation is considering whether to suggest improvements in Arlington’s form of government and electoral system, considering alternative electoral options that might suit the County’s size.
Tuesday, June 15
Home buying 101: A Webinar for First-Time Home Buyers*
Time: 5:30-6:30 p.m.
A home buying seminar hosted by the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union will walk those interested through the mortgage process and other introductory home-buying steps.
Wednesday, June 16
Virginia Fair Housing Certification*
Time: 1-3 p.m.
The Northern Virginia Apartment Association is hosting and training program for a variety of legal and contract issues related to property management. Program attendees who participate in the program on-camera will receive certification.
Thursday, June 17
The Arlington Public Library is hosting a free “tea and crafts” program every third Thursday of each month. Attendees can either bring their own crafts to work on or receive coloring pages and other activities from library staff.
Friday, June 18
Fridays at the Fountain
Crystal City Water Park (1601 Crystal Drive)
Time: 5-8 p.m.
The National Landing BID is continuing its summer event series Fridays at the Fountain this Friday with a band called The JoGo Project and the Peruvian Brothers food stand. Due to COVID restrictions, there will be strict attendance caps in place and pre-registration will be required to attend. Children under two do not need a ticket. There will be no standing room and masks will be required at all times when not seated.
Saturday, June 19
Become a Better Communicator and Leader: Join the SALT Toastmasters Club*
Time: 2-4 p.m.
The SALT Toastmasters Club is hosting its monthly meeting with an introduction to the how-to’s of communication and leadership, and to build connections with other seasoned and aspiring toastmasters across the region. The event is free with a meeting link sent on registration.
Virtual Juneteenth Celebration
Time: 2-3 p.m.
Washington Revels Jubilee Voices is partnering with the Alexandria Black History Museum to present the ensemble’s first Juneteenth Celebration, a holiday that marks the anniversary of the date slavery was fully abolished. The musical production was filmed across local historic sites and will be accompanied by a virtual presentation on Saturday.
*Denotes featured (sponsored) event.
Yorktown Grad Sets Record at Olympic Trials — “18-Year-Old Arlington Aquatic Club swimmer Torri Huske just exploded in the first heat of women’s 100 fly semifinals, breaking the American Record. After showing off her speed this morning, splitting under World Record pace on the first 50, Huske blasted a 55.78 to touch first tonight. The swim marks a personal best by nearly a full second, and makes Huske just the 2nd American of all-time to break 56 seconds in the event.” [SwimSwam, Twitter, Twitter]
Amazon Adopts Hybrid Office Schedule — “We’ve adjusted our guidance on our plans for returning to the office and added more clarity. Going forward, we’ve decided to offer Amazonians a mix of working between the office and home… Our new baseline will be three days a week in the office (with the specific days being determined by your leadership team), leaving you flexibility to work remotely up to two days a week.” [Amazon]
Arlington Man Imprisoned for Harassment — “For more than a decade, the employees of a Washington think tank were traumatized by an unlikely harasser: a career Foreign Service officer. In hundreds of emails and voicemails, he called them ‘Arab American terrorist murderers’ and ranted about how they should be cleansed. Yet there was almost nothing they could do.” [Washingtonian]
Marymount Gets Federal Grant — “Marymount University has established a new fellowship program to prepare Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduates to serve high-needs populations and meet the demands of a growing profession. A $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will fund 84 fellowships for students within the University’s School of Counseling.” [Press Release]
Reflections on Halls Hill History — “One of those local historians is Wilma Jones, who grew up in the mostly Black community of Halls Hill in Arlington, Virginia. Now the neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying and Black families like hers have been pushed out. Today, Jones says it’s too late to save Grandma’s house, but it’s not too late to save her history.” [With Good Reason]
Vote: Favorite Outdoor Dining Spot — There’s one day left in the voting for this week’s Arlies category: Favorite Outdoor Dining Spot. [ARLnow]
Report Details ACPD Actions at Lafayette Park — “The ACPD civil disturbance unit commander told us that ACPD officers were not equipped with chemical irritants other than rounds similar to pepper ball but said the ACPD did deploy inert smoke and a flash bang grenade on 16th Street during the clearing operation.” [Dept. of Interior, DCist]
Arlington Sit-ins Remembered With Art — “Sixty-one years ago this month, several Howard University students and allies walked into the People’s Drug Store on Lee Highway in Arlington. For the next two weeks, they participated in sit-ins to protest white-only lunch counters across the county. Now, there is a special exhibit and letter pressed cards to mark this moment of Arlington’s civil rights history.” [NBC 4]
Cicada Sundae at Local Ice Cream Shop — “Toby’s Homemade Ice Cream & Coffee in Arlington is offering a Cicada Sundae. Don’t worry. It’s not made with real cicadas. The frozen treat comes with one scoop each of chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and café au lait, topped with chocolate sprinkles, two red M&Ms and a waffle cone… The waffle cones are fashioned to look like wings and the M&Ms as eyes.” [Patch, WTOP]
Del. Levine’s Farewell Message — From Del. Mark Levine, after falling short in his reelection bid and run for lieutenant governor: “I’ve had the honor of impacting positive change in the world in so many ways already through decades of activism, thousands of radio and tv shows, and dozens of laws. Whatever the future holds for me, I know I will never stop speaking out against injustice.” [Twitter]
Candidate Adds Military Rank to His Name — “Major Mike Webb, who has floated around the periphery of the Northern Virginia political scene for nearly the past decade, qualified for the School Board ballot. He will be the lone opposition to [Mary] Kadera, who last month won the Democratic endorsement over Miranda Turner… (‘Major’ was Webb’s military rank but now also is a formal part of his name, as he did requisite legal paperwork add it.)” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington House’s Hidden History — “On Tuesday, the historic mansion in Arlington National Cemetery reopens after a renovation that has recaptured the glory of the house, along with clues to the secret lives of the enslaved Black people who were the main occupants of the land where it stood.” [Washington Post, NBC 4]
Developer Looks to Expand in Arlington — “One of JBG Smith Properties’ top executives handling the company’s massive Arlington portfolio — and its relationship with Amazon.com Inc. — has jumped to another developer. Longtime JBG Smith Executive Vice President Andy Van Horn made the move to Dweck Properties on May 17… he aims to transform Dweck from a small family company with a focus on apartment management to an active developer of properties in National Landing,” [Washington Business Journal]
Smash and Grab Theft in Pentagon City — “At approximately 6:57 p.m. on June 5, police were dispatched to the report of a larceny. Upon arrival, it was determined that the two male suspects entered the business, smashed the glass display cases containing merchandise, stole several items and fled the scene in a waiting vehicle.” [ACPD]
County Board Resumes In-Person Meetings — “After more than a year participating in meetings largely from their own rec rooms or similar spaces, Arlington County Board members will be back on the dais later this month. ‘The board is looking forward to holding board meetings and interacting with the community in-person safely and responsibly,’ County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti told the Sun Gazette.” [Sun Gazette]
Baby Deer Found Near Fire Station — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “This tiny (and we really mean tiny) fawn was found in the parking lot of a local fire station. Due to his location and condition, our officers knew they had to step in and help this little guy. He is now safe and sound with a local wildlife rehabber!” [Twitter]
GOP Questions Dem Caucus — “A key leader of the Arlington County Republican Committee last week mused publicly whether the powers-that-be of the Arlington County Democratic Committee put their thumbs on the scale to help a School Board candidate across the finish line. The Democratic leadership, in response, said the GOP attack line is based on a faulty supposition.” [Sun Gazette]
Masks Still Required Inside APS Buildings — “Fully vaccinated individuals may now remove their masks when outside on school grounds and are exempt from quarantine if identified in contact tracing. Masks are required for everyone while inside our facilities and schools. These measures are subject to change as we anticipate additional revised guidance for schools prior to the start of the new school year.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Man Clinging to Side of Overpass Stops Traffic — “I-66 and a portion of N. Glebe Road [are] currently blocked due to a man who was hanging off the side of the overpass. The man is now in police custody and the roads are reopening.” [Twitter]