Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood is now one step closer to changing its name back to Green Valley, thanks to the Arlington County Civic Federation.
The federation approved the Nauck Civic Association’s request to change its name to the Green Valley Civic Association on Tuesday. The vote came after neighbors requested the county nix the name they said obscures the true history of freed slaves who founded the community.
“We’re just very happy that it’s changed and it’s the name that’s always associated with it,” said Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark.
The historically black neighborhood was first built partly by freed slaves Sarah Ann and Levi Jones. They bought 14 acres of land along Four Mile Run and sold parcels to other African Americans during and after the Civil War, according to research from Dr. Alfred O. Taylor Jr., who formerly led the Nauck Civic Association and the local NAACP chapter.
The renaming resolution passed by the Civic Federation notes:
“The residents of the area continually celebrate and honor the heritage of a ‘FREED’ community that reminds us of the many hills our ancestors had to climb, slavery, segregation and racial covenants that have bought us to today with the freedoms that we hold.”
Taylor wrote in a February open letter that his research indicates county officials began calling the area Nauck in the 1970s after Confederate soldier and German immigrant John D. Nauck, who purchased almost 80 acres of land in the area in the 1870s.
“It is inappropriate for the diverse community to venerate a person who fought to preserve slavery and whose memory evokes painful reminders of laws that segregated and excluded African Americans from public life,” Taylor wrote. “We find no record or evidence linking Nauck to efforts to improve the quality of life for its residents.”
Tuesday’s vote by the Civic Federation is not the last step in the process. The organization must transmit the matter to the County Board, which will then discuss and vote on the change.
Support for reconsidering the county’s Confederate vestiges has gained steam since the deadly Charlottesville white supremacist rally in 2017 and amid national conversations about the recent rise of racist hate groups.
In Arlington, leaders waged heated battles to strip Washington-Lee of the second half of its hyphenated name, which referenced Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They are also poised to remove the “Stratford” in Stratford School, which originated from the name of Lee’s birthplace.
The County Board previously has acknowledged Green Valley’s unique history. In 2013, members approved a historic location designation to the Green Valley Pharmacy in recognition of it being the first store in the county to serve black and white customers, including serving food at an integrated diner inside the shop.
Merlene Accuses Favola of Sexism — “Normally, Democratic debates in deep-blue Arlington are wonky, congenial, staid, even boring affairs, where the candidates at least pretend to be cordial to each other. And tonight’s 31st State Senate district Democratic debate, between incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola and challenger Nicole Merlene, largely held to that model for the entire debate… until the closing statements, when basically all hell broke loose.” [Blue Virginia, PDF]
Metro Closure This Weekend — “[On] May 4 and 5, Metro will be closed south of Reagan National Airport– six stations in all. Trains will be replaced by free shuttle buses at Braddock Road, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.” [WUSA 9]
Arlington and Amazon Emails Revealed — “Arlington County officials worked closely with Amazon.com Inc. to present a good public relations strategy in the weeks leading to their passage of the company’s $23 million incentive package, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show. The emails indicate some county officials were trying to develop a cozy relationship and wanted to help Amazon navigate challenges and smooth over some criticism.” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Man Donates Flag Tie to New U.S. Citizen — Arlington resident Marc Johnson was trying to sell a patriotic American flag tie on Ebay after cleaning out his closet, but ended up donating it to the would-be buyer when he learned that the buyer was planning to wear the tie to his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. [Washington Post]
Arlington Sheriff’s Office Turning 150 — “The 150th anniversary of establishment of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will be commemorated on May 7 as part of National Correctional Employees Week. The Arlington Sheriff’s Office was established at a time when Arlington (then known as Alexandria County) was being separated from the town (now city) of Alexandria and into its own self-governing locality.” [InsideNova]
History of Harry W. Gray House — “On this day in Arlington history: May 1, 1881 Harry W. Gray and his family move into their house. He and his family took years to build it and it is the only one of its kind for miles… The house remains a sturdy structure, its longevity a testament to Gray’s workmanship.” [Facebook]
Amazon HQ2 Update — “JBG Smith Properties has begun design and pre-development on the first installment of Amazon.com Inc.’s new headquarters buildings in Arlington County, with the aim of starting construction on HQ2’s initial 2 million square feet of office space ‘within the next year.'” [Washington Business Journal]
Mosaic Park Contract Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a contract for slightly more than $6.08 million with Nastos Construction Inc. to build a new Mosaic Park in the heart of Ballston.” [Arlington County]
Amazon Spurs on Real Estate Investors — “After real estate agents reported ‘packs of investors’ at open houses in Virginia’s Arlington and Alexandria in December, the number of houses and condos on the market has been seriously depleted.” [WTOP]
Eden Center’s Past and Present — “The opening of the Clarendon Metro station in December 1979, made it far easier to get to Little Saigon. This wasn’t good news for everyone… Rents went up and shops closed. Luckily, only about three and a half miles down Wilson Boulevard, Eden Center was taking shape.” [DCist]
Clarendon Crash Causes Traffic Woes — Updated at 9 a.m. — A crash at the intersection of Wilson Blvd and 10th Street N. closed westbound 10th Street and blocked a lane of Wilson Blvd in each directions during the morning rush hour, leading to traffic congestion around the area. [Twitter]
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Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
(Updated at 2 p.m) Some community leaders in Nauck are pushing to see the neighborhood’s name changed to “Green Valley,” arguing that an area so rich in African American history shouldn’t be named for a former Confederate soldier.
The historically black South Arlington neighborhood was founded, in part, by freed slaves. Yet it’s come to be known for John D. Nauck, a German immigrant who served in the Confederate Army, then purchased a total of 79 acres of land in the area in 1874 and 1875.
In an open letter to the Nauck community distributed Friday (Feb. 15), longtime civic leader Dr. Alfred Taylor argues that it is “inappropriate for the diverse community to venerate a person who fought to preserve slavery and whose memory evokes painful reminders of laws that segregated and excluded African Americans from public life.”
The county has been locked in some contentious debates over Confederate symbols across Arlington ever since the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in August 2017 sparked a nationwide conversation about the issue. The School Board’s push to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School proved to be an especially heated process, but Taylor suggested that other communities in the county should be “taking a page” from the Board’s example on this front.
It’s not yet clear how the process of renaming the neighborhood might proceed — the community’s civic association could look to simply change its own name, though there may be additional county approvals tied up in that process. But Nauck Civic Association President Portia Clark is at least circulating Taylor’s letter in a bid to receive feedback on the proposal, particularly given the persistent complaints from residents that the county has failed to listen to their voices.
In the letter, Taylor argues that Nauck residents increasingly support naming the neighborhood “Green Valley/Nauck” or just “Green Valley,” in a bid to honor the area’s original nickname.
The exact origins of the “Green Valley” name are uncertain — Taylor, once the head of the Nauck Civic Association and Arlington’s chapter of the NAACP, wrote that his extensive research into the area’s history suggests the name is linked back to James Green, who owned property on what is now the site of the Army-Navy Country Club.
Yet he writes that “Green Valley” name bears more of a link to the area’s African American history than it does to any one person. Levi and Sarah Ann Jones became famous as the first freed slaves to purchase property in the area back in 1844, and Taylor argues that they helped build up a community in the area and make the “Green Valley” name more widespread.
The area was occupied by the Union Army during the Civil War, and eventually became home to a “Freedmen’s Village” following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Taylor also writes that the Jones family subsequently sold some property to other African American families, helping to establish the area as an enclave for Arlington’s black residents.
As Virginia officials increasingly embraced policies of segregation, the area became home to a large number of businesses owned by black residents, according to the Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County, prepared in 2016 as part of the county’s Historic Preservation Program.
Taylor pointed out that the area was “largely excluded from full participation in mainstream American political and social life and commerce” and so residents felt they had to “do for themselves.” Many of the businesses to spring up in the 1900s bore the “Green Valley” name, including the Green Valley Pharmacy, which the County Board designated as a historic district in 2013.
Nonetheless, Taylor argues that the name “Nauck” took hold among the “official Arlington” set in the 1970s — the county’s history of the area suggests that the name “Nauck” first appeared in reference to the area as far back as 1876, and that black residents referred to it as “Nauckville” dating back to the late 19th century.
But Taylor hypothesizes that the destruction of the manor on Green’s original property in 1924 helped contribute to the “Green Valley” name fading away, or perhaps that leaders at the time avoided referring to Green Valley because it was “extensively occupied and used throughout most of the Civil War by the Union Army.” The construction of many Confederate statues and monuments in the early 20th century has often been connected to efforts by white leaders to send a message to black residents, and Taylor suggests some of that could be at play in the decision to embrace a former Confederate soldier like Nauck.
While recounting that John D. Nauck held county positions like Justice of the Peace and “sold considerable property to African Americans,” the county’s heritage guide notes that Nauck fled Arlington in 1891 after his efforts to evict an African American resident were met with resistance.
Taylor also points out that community leaders like the Jones family or William Augustus Rowe (a leader within the “Freedmen’s Village” who later won political office) were passed over in favor of Nauck, and Taylor argues they also deserve consideration.
“We find no record or evidence linking Nauck to efforts to improve the quality of life for its residents,” Taylor wrote. “Look at many of the local, national and international contributions that were made by the residents under the banner of Green Valley… to let that name slip into nothingness would be a travesty to their memory.”
Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the civic association’s next steps for considering Taylor’s proposal.
Arlington Dems Weary of Richmond Scandals — “With a political crisis of unprecedented proportions swirling at the statewide level, Arlington Democrats are reacting at perhaps the only pace available to them – one day, and one step, at a time. ‘We will get through this,’ a visibly weary Jill Caiazzo, chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, said at the organization’s monthly meeting on Feb. 6.” [InsideNova]
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Lunar New Year Event This Weekend — The Eden Center in Falls Church is holding a Lunar New Year event Sunday “with a lion dance, entertainers, balloon sculptures, face painting and ‘other surprises and giveaways.'” [Tysons Reporter]
Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf
It’s been sixty years since four black students integrated Stratford Junior High School, marking the beginning of the end of school segregation in Virginia, and Arlington leaders are planning a special event to commemorate the momentous anniversary.
The school system and Arlington County’s Historic Preservation Program scheduled a celebration tonight (Monday) at the H-B Woodlawn auditorium, near the original Stratford building at 4100 Vacation Lane.
The event will mark nearly 60 years to the day from when the students first attended the school back on Feb. 2, 1959, as Stratford became the first school to defy the state’s policy of “massive resistance” in the face of the Brown v. Board of Education decision banning school segregation.
The program will include remarks from School Board Chair Reid Goldstein and County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, as well as three of the four students who first integrated the school: Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson. The fourth, Lance Newman, passed away last fall.
The program also includes a performance by the H-B Woodlawn Choir and participants from the Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Visual Arts contest reading essays they prepared. Arlington Public Art will also be distributing free 60th anniversary commemorative letterpress prints created by visiting artist Amos Kennedy.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. for anyone hoping to examine artifacts and art from the civil rights era, with the formal program beginning at 6:30 p.m.
The gathering comes at a time of great change for the Stratford property. With H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs set to move to a new building in Rosslyn for the new school year, the site will soon become home to a new middle school.
The School Board decided late last year to name the building for Dorothy Hamm, an Arlington-based civil rights activist who fought for the integration of Stratford. However, the Board attracted some backlash by stripping any reference to Stratford from the building’s name, given the term’s connection to Robert E. Lee and his family home of Stratford Hall.
Photo via Arlington County
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Despite a dining space that’s limited to less than a dozen foot stools in a cramped row, few neighborhood eateries have had a more indelible effect on the community than El Charrito Caminante since its founding in 2000.
Unbeknownst to most of its customers, the hybrid Salvadoran-Mexican restaurant, located at 2710 Washington Boulevard, has a long history in Arlington’s food scene.
“What makes up for the space is they have a really friendly atmosphere,”said Jennifer Hernandez, who, like the owners of El Charrito Caminante, is Salvadoran. “The owners are really nice and acknowledge every single person who comes in.”
“I lived across the street for several years, from 2003 to 2006, and basically survived on it,” recalled former Arlington resident Evan Vischi.
Owner Jose Zalaya Sr. hails from San Miguel, El Salvador, and he faced quite the journey before founding the Lyon Park eatery. Even before the country faced a massive civil war in the 1980s, which led to a mass exodus of Salvadorans that continues to this day, the Zalaya clan was targeted by rebel insurgents.
“Anyone who owned land was in danger; we didn’t know anything about them or their names,” said Jose Jr., who plays a major role in managing the restaurant.
According to local resident Frick Curry, who worked as a foreign policy analyst for the Center for International Foreign Policy at the time, the military was closely aligned with a ruling class that consisted of an oligarchy of less than fifteen families.
“Being part of the opposition was really your only alternative because the elections were rigged and the economy of the country was run by the 14 families or their minions,” Curry said. “They did try to seize land from land owners and this is an issue still in Central America today because of the growing populations and the pressures on land.”
The Zalayas estimate half of the family was killed, in all. While Jose Sr. and his parents were spared, they no longer had a base of wealth.
Accordingly, Jose Sr. chose to head to America in 1976 at just 19 years old, leaving his pregnant wife behind. Unlike many immigrants from Central America, who rely on family to sponsor their journey to the U.S., Zalaya didn’t know anyone when he began his trip.
Instead, Jose Sr. got by thanks to the people he met along the way during his months-long journey, including a fellow traveler who linked him to his first construction job when he got to Northern Virginia.
Seven years after arriving here, Jose Sr. was able to send for his son, who was raised in Alexandria and went to Edison High School alongside his two younger sisters — one is in the military and the other is out of the restaurant business.
In the 1990s, Jose Sr. and his wife, Anna, opened up a food truck based on family recipes. They sold at the intersection of N. Pershing Drive and Arlington Boulevard with a customer base that was boosted by military personnel stationed at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (then known just as Fort Myer). Jose Sr. estimates it was one of four or five food trucks in the county at the time.
But when the Zalayas decided to expand and open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2000, they never considered changing the menu.
“Around here, this was a close place where everyone in the neighborhood knew us, we didn’t want to change,” Jose Jr. said.
The menu is well-known for its authenticity. Dishes are referred to as “cabrito” for goat, or “gallina” for hen, rather than more palatable terms, like chicken or lamb.
The make of the sandwiches is very unconventional as well. Order the gallina sandwich and you will get red cabbage with slices of egg.
Jose Jr., who has been working since the age of 16, is often seen at the front taking orders. His father still works daily and can be seen in the back.
“Every time my dad came in, the owner [Jose Sr.] would have a conversation with him, so we’ve become personally loyal,” said Hernandez.
Vischi also remembers befriending Jose Jr., who never forgot him even once he moved away from Arlington.
“When I visited El Charrito [Caminante] in 2012, Jose had thought that I’d been absent for other reasons, but where I told him where I’d been [living in the Czech Republic], he refused payment for our meal, even refusing payment for a symbolic tip,” Vischi said.
The 2015 Census American Community Survey counted 288,000 Salvadoran residents in the D.C. metro area, accounting for one third of the region’s Hispanic community. It is also the highest population of Salvadorans in the nation.
As such, the local culinary scene is marked by plenty of other, long-standing Salvadoran restaurants, such as Pupuseria Dona Azucena (71 N Glebe Road), Restaurante El Salvador (4805 Columbia Pike), Sofia’s Pupuseria (3610 Columbia Pike), La Union (5517 Wilson Boulevard) and Atlacatl (4701 Columbia Pike).
“We have a lot of customers who aren’t Salvadoran because we’re in a primarily white neighborhood,”said Mexican-Salvadoran restaurant La Union manager Henry Gutierrez. “Salvadoran is a whole different cuisine than Mexican, which people are more familiar with, but people really like the steaks and shrimps and meats.”
When asked about expansion, Jose Jr. says the family has no plans — they have the perfect location in the neighborhood.
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Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
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The Gritty Pre-History of Crystal City — “Before development flourished (the entrepreneurs offered bargain rates to federal agencies), the area ‘was a conglomeration of places that sold junk, used tires, a drive-in movie theater, a run-down ice skating rink, second-hand materials — it was very unattractive…’ The industrial area leading to the Potomac Yard railway tracks for decades was bordered by sketchy bar-rooms of the 19th-century Jackson City and National Airport’s precursor, Hoover Field.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Seasonal Pop-Ups at Pentagon City Mall — A trio of “seasonal pop-up shops” are opening at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City: Chukulata, a sweet shop selling crepes and other treats; PolarX Ornaments, selling holiday decor and personalized ornaments; and Trunk and Drawer, which “specializes in men’s fashionable undergarments as well as sleepwear, activewear and swimwear,” per a press release.
Stepped Up DUI Enforcement Underway — “To help spread the message about the dangers of drunk driving, the Arlington County Police Department is partnering with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to get drunk drivers off the roads and help save lives during the national high-visibility enforcement campaign, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over, which runs from December 13-31, 2018.” [Arlington County]
JBG Buying More Sites in ‘National Landing’ — “JBG Smith Properties has reached a deal to buy a development site across from Virginia Tech’s planned innovation campus in Alexandria, part of a larger strategy to acquire land in and around the National Landing area that includes Amazon.com Inc.’s new headquarters.” [Washington Business Journal]
Nearby: Old Town Getting Left Behind? — “The old guard of Alexandria, mainly in Old Town, has for decades wielded a sort of NIMBY clout and deployed ample financial resources to fight projects. The plans to activate Alexandria’s 8.6-acre waterfront were delayed for years due to community pushback and legal challenges… But fears that Alexandria will be left behind as competition intensifies with flashier destinations such as National Harbor and The Wharf are spurring change.” [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Michael Coffman
“Washington-Loving” might’ve earned a committee’s blessing as the ideal new name for Washington-Lee High School, but members of the group say the process of reaching that recommendation was anything but smooth sailing.
Two members of the W-L renaming committee even ended up resigning from its ranks, decrying the group’s work to find a new name for the school as a process that was tainted from the time deliberations started this September.
Other members of the committee argue that the group had some passionate disagreements at times, but generally reached a fair consensus on a name for W-L. Regardless of exactly where the truth lies, however, the dispute marks yet another complication in a process that’s been characterized by plenty of fierce debate ever since the School Board’s June vote to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from the building.
“I am departing with disgust about a morally bankrupt process that has been directed, not facilitated,” Patrice Kelly, a W-L parent, wrote in a letter resigning from the committee provided to ARLnow. “Between the chilling of discussions, the manipulative process, the disregarding of solicited public opinion and the pressure to conform to the unstated mandate, I have concluded that this process is a disingenuous attempt to appear that public input was sought.”
The chief concerns of Kelly and Bill Moser, a W-L alumnus who resigned from the committee once it finished its work last week, are that the committee failed to give any consideration of the prospect of keeping the name the same, or finding another historical figure with the name “Lee” as a substitute.
Both were also frustrated that one of their fellow committee members had ties to the school system, albeit indirectly, which they felt showed that the Board was unduly influencing the process. Dana Raphael, the daughter of former Board member Abby Raphael, represented recent W-L alumni on the committee.
“I won’t say that she orchestrated the process… but I do wonder about the whole thing,” Moser told ARLnow.
Raphael, for her part, feels that such assertions are ridiculous. She says she became interested in the battle over the W-L name when the Board was deliberating the issue this summer, particularly because she’s believed that the name should be changed ever since she was a freshman at W-L.
And as for her mother, Raphael says “she’s had no role in the facilities policy or the renaming,” particularly since she left the Board in 2015.
“Her commitment to public service inspired me when I was in high school to take an active role in my community, in politics and in current events,” Raphael wrote in an email. “I applied to join the renaming committee because I wanted to ensure the process considered the history of the school and the legacy of Jim Crow, as well as ensure we centered a conversation about civil rights.”
Raphael also argues that it wasn’t part of the group’s mission to consider the prospect of keeping the name, noting the group had “no authority to ‘overturn’ or ‘nullify’ the School Board’s decision to replace ‘Lee.'” She added that a neutral facilitator brought on by the school system to guide the process made such a point clear “at every single meeting.”
“It was out of our control,” said Chloe Slater, a junior at W-L representing current students on the committee. “The point was to choose a new name, because that’s what the School Board decided. Some people didn’t understand that aspect.”
Even still, Kelly and Moser were frustrated that the committee was directed to ignore comments submitted in public surveys about the process that pushed for the name to stay the same. Kelly even felt that the committee was dissuaded from any consideration of feedback asking the group to pick another “Lee” to honor.
But Linda Erdos, a School Board spokeswoman and a staff liaison to the committee, says the group decided on its own not to move forward with another “Lee” option.
The committee considered people like “Light-Horse Harry” Lee, Robert’s father and a Revolutionary War general, or William Lee, George Washington’s enslaved manservant. Yet Erdos said the group ultimately decided that picking another “Lee” would feel too much like “smoke and mirrors” after the Board’s decision. William Lee, in particular, ended up among the committee’s top choices, but did not advance in the group’s final round of voting.
“We thought, if we’re going to make a change, why not make it be a big one, why not make it be amazing?” Slater said.
Slater, the daughter an interracial couple herself, was quite pleased that the committee settled on a name to honor Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple who managed to successfully challenge Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage in court. It helped, too, that replacing “Lee” with “Loving” meets the desire of many students to keep the “W-L” moniker intact, Slater said.
Raphael said she was willing to consider other names beyond those that would’ve preserved the school’s W-L acronym — abolitionist Harriet Tubman was the lone finalist to be considered whose name didn’t begin with “L” — but she believes “Loving” is a fine choice to honor ‘those who fought for equality and equal citizenship.”
“I would be proud to tell people that I graduated from Washington-Loving High School,” Raphael said.
Moser takes a considerably dimmer view of the committee’s recommendation. He felt the group was too “racially fixated,” primarily submitting African American historical figures for consideration, even though the W-L student body has a large Hispanic population as well.
He also sees the “Loving” name as a “totally inappropriate and ridiculous” and viewed it as “a joke as far as I was concerned,” considering that he doesn’t think much of the Lovings and their fight to end the interracial marriage ban.
“The rationale for them was they wanted to be happy and they were willing to break the law to do so,” Moser said. “These were not people of high stature. They didn’t accomplish anything other than being in an interracial relationship.”
Moser’s skepticism regarding the Lovings aside, Erdos believes the committee’s deliberations were generally quite civil. Given the legal wrangling and political battles that have so far marked the renaming process, she says that was (generally) a pleasant surprise.
“I really was bracing for some difficult meetings,” Erdos said. “But, quite honestly, I was surprised it went as well as it did.”
The Board plans to discuss the name change for the first time on Dec. 20, and vote on Jan. 10.
Arlington school officials will soon decide on a name for the new middle school to be built on the site of the Stratford School building in Cherrydale — but the complex history of the building, and its original name, has divided the community over which option is best.
A naming committee settled on three options for the 1,000-seat school in October, ahead of the building’s planned opening next fall. But that collection of parents and community members hasn’t been able to settle on a definitive recommendation as the School Board gears up for a vote on the matter.
The 28-member committee was instead split down the middle on two options for the building: naming it simply “Stratford Middle School,” or dubbing it “Dorothy Hamm Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building.”
The group initially considered “Legacy Middle School at the Historic Stratford Building” as an option, but that choice fell out of favor as the process advanced. The committee even floated the compromise possibility of naming the building “Stratford-Hamm Middle School,” but stopped short of recommending such an option.
The building, located at 4100 Vacation Lane, currently houses the H-B Woodlawn program, but was once the site of Stratford Junior High School. That’s believed to be the first school in Virginia to admit black students following the momentous Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, lending plenty of historic significance to the site and its name.
But the “Stratford” name itself comes from a considerably darker part of the nation’s past. The name is derived from Stratford Hall, the plantation home of Robert E. Lee and his family in Westmoreland County.
Considering that the school system is in the midst of a contentious process to strip Lee’s name from Washington-Lee High School, any association with the Confederate general has the potential to kick off a new firestorm of controversy in the county. Accordingly, some members of the naming committee championed naming the building after Dorothy Hamm, a civil rights activist who helped lead a court challenge to Arlington’s school segregation policies, leading to the eventual integration of Stratford.
“The event signified the end of massive resistance in the commonwealth of Virginia and dealt a powerful blow to the opponents of racial equality nationwide,” Ellen Smith, the incoming principal of the new middle school, wrote in a letter to the Board. “While Hamm was the community activist at the forefront of the campaign to integrate Arlington Public Schools, she was not the only community activist that was determined to integrate Arlington schools so that all students would have the opportunity to receive an equal education.”
Smith noted in her letter that the committee was determined to see “Stratford” remain part of the name somehow, in order to maintain “the clear connection between the name of the school” and its historic integration. But by including it only as addendum beyond Hamm’s name, Smith wrote that some on the committee fear it will be “dropped from regular use.”
That’s why many would much rather simply name the school “Stratford.” The county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board endorsed such an option, castigating the school system in a letter for even considering the possibility of a name other than Stratford “without any apparent prior consideration of the uniqueness and the historical and cultural significance” of the site.
A special committee convened by Superintendent Patrick Murphy to debate “Historic Interpretation at the Former Stratford Junior High School” reached a similar conclusion, noting that the school has earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
“That the Stratford name comes from the birthplace of Robert E. Lee is an uncomfortable part of the history, but not the most important part,” Susan Cunningham, the co-chair of that committee, wrote in an email to ARLnow. “As community historian Dr. Arnold Taylor reminds us, ‘We have to understand where we are coming from so we can appreciate where we are going’… Names matter. History matters. At Stratford, the civil rights history matters most.”
Smith urged the Board to consider the opinions of both the commission and the review board, but otherwise would not take a firm position beyond suggesting one of the two names.
The Board will discuss naming options for the first time on Thursday (Dec. 6), with a final vote set for Dec. 20.