Arlington Moves Forward to Change the Name of Lee Highway
In July the Arlington County Board gave its “blessing,” to the Lee Highway Alliance to establish a working group to develop a list of potential names for the Board to consider to rename the highway. As a community activist in Arlington for almost 30 years, and a member of the Lee Highway Alliance, I have been asked, and I’ve agreed to participate in the working group.
Today I was one of the participants in the production of a video discussing the history and impact of Lee Highway to people who live or have lived near Lee Highway. It was an opportunity to share the perspective of this highway that was called “Falls Church Road,” before the racist leaders in control of state government transportation departments decided to rename the road. Like many other roads, as well as buildings, monuments, and bridges Lee Highway was named in honor of the loser president of The Confederate States of America (CSA). In case you’re unaware, the CSA was a collection of 11 states that seceded from the United States in 1860 following the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Then they lost the Civil War.
Interestingly enough, these Confederate names were adopted many years after the end of the Civil War. Why? Well, History.com names it clearly, “white backlash.” From the website, “Why do schools have these names in the first place? Some received their Confederate names between 1900 and the 1920s, when Jim Crow laws segregated the south and Confederate monument construction in the country peaked. Others came much later. Of the 100 schools that retain Confederate names, at least 32 were built or dedicated between 1950 and 1970 amid white backlash to Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”
I have had a few folks give me suggestions for new names. But I am going into the process with an open mind. As open as a 61 year old Black woman can have about a road that has been a part of my life forever. First memories of good stuff at Langston Elementary School and Fire Station 8. Not so pleasant memories being followed by Miss Dottie at Robertson’s 5 and 10 Store every Saturday when I went to purchase a bat and ball, a set of jacks, or a deck of Old Maid Playing Cards. But there were far more good experiences than bad. Going to High’s to get ice cream. To Mrs. Adele’s to get my hair pressed for Sunday service.
But what about Lee Highway now? What do you think about the renaming? What name do you think the Working Group should consider proposing to the County Board?
Coming in September: UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington
I found this account by Mrs. Nellie C. Stewart written back in the 1960s of the history of Langston School in my mom’s papers. I thought I would share it because it has details that are not common knowledge. One item of interest is that Lee Highway used to be called, “Falls Church Road.” There is also more detail about the school that preceded the Sumner School. I had no idea there was a school in a place called the “Wonder House.” Rather than paraphrasing Mrs. Stewart’s history, I decided to let you read it (or click below to listen to the audio) for yourself.
Ask any Black person who grew up in Arlington during the 1950’s to 1970’s about Jennie Dean Park in the Green Valley neighborhood and I guarantee they will have a story to tell. It will be a story of friends. Of fun. And most of all, a story of community.
I interviewed Mrs. A. Saundra Green of the Halls Hill – High View Park neighborhood about Jennie Dean because she is without question a living treasure of Arlington Black History knowledge. I knew Saundra could provide details about the “Negro Recreation Division,” in Arlington County Parks and Recreation Department based on her experiences growing up in Arlington and as a staff director in Arlington Parks and Recreation Department for decades. Jennie Dean Park was created for Black Arlington as one of only seven parks in the segregated system.
As “The Early History of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department explains, “Until 1962, the Arlington parks system was segregated. The Negro Recreation Section was designated by the parks department for African-American members of the community who were denied access to County parks. Created in 1948, the Negro Recreation Section provided sports and arts-related programming and held public events, which were often held at the Langston Recreation Center or Hoffman-Boston School. Mr, Ernest E. Johnson served as its supervisor from 1948-1962.”
Jennie Dean was the largest of seven playgrounds in the Negro Recreation Section. All of the special events in recreation that were County-wide for Black Arlington residents were held at Jennie Dean because of its 22-acre size. Saundra listed off the segregated neighborhoods that were “Halls Hill, Green Valley, Hatsville, and Johnson’s Hill, where the smaller neighborhood playgrounds came together for festivals, track meets, little league softball, and other big events at Jennie Dean.”
Saundra went on describe Jenny Dean, “as a place where African-American children from around the County met each another.” She went on to explain that before children went to (segregated) Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School, they had met children from other County neighborhoods during recreation events at Jennie Dean.
When I was a teenager in Arlington in the late 1960s and ’70s, although Arlington Recreation was integrated, services were still provided by neighborhood, especially in terms of summer camps and drop-in recreation. Of course, redlining in housing was still prevalent, though illegal in the County, so most Black people lived the historically segregated neighborhoods. Friday nights in summer were all about watching or participating League Softball games at Jennie Dean. Basketball tournaments and the ice cream truck song competing with the music playing and spectator’s cheering and telling stories of bragging rights for the winning team.
Jennie Dean holds additional significance to Black Arlingtonians because Ms. Jane Serepta Dean, or “Miss Jennie Dean” was a formerly enslaved woman who founded the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth. This secondary school was one of few secondary schools serving African American youth. In 1948 Arlington County Public Schools was paying the tuition for 33 students to attend the school in Manassas rather than allow them to attend all-white Washington-Lee High School. In 1944 when Arlington County purchased this park, land where Black people from Green Valley played baseball since the 1930’s, it was named Jennie Dean Park in her honor.
Today, Jennie Dean Park is the subject of neighborhood concern due to the recent decision by the County Board to establish a temporary parking lot for television station WETA down the block from the station. The Green Valley Civic Association leadership expressed their displeasure about the County’s stating in 2018 that, “acquisition of the property is essential for the expansion of Jennie Dean Park.” Then the Board made the decision to use the land for private parking for an undefined period of time. There was no notice given to the neighborhood. No email sent to the Civic Association. No notices posted on social media. Only a notice in the Washington Times.
It’s no wonder the Civic Association feels Arlington County government has “failed” the Green Valley neighborhood by their inability to communicate and work in partnership this project at a place that holds so much historic significance to our community. Let’s hope the County Board and Manager make a sincere effort to improve communication and partnership with Green Valley as the County’s oldest and most revered historic African-American neighborhood.
I am getting a lot of interest from people on social media about my book, which provides a history of the Halls Hill neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. The levels of Jim Crow racism, discrimination, and institutional racism Black Arlington residents endured and overcame that I describe in the book is eye-opening to some who don’t understand the level of racism Black people endure(d) in Arlington. The actions those Black Arlingtonians took and the courage they showed to impact change helped make this County what it is today. But we still have far to go, as the current environment shows us. In schools and communities, I am encouraged with the curiosity people are showing to learn and do more.
I must admit that I think to myself, FINALLY.
There are so many aspects of Black History in Arlington that are not well known.
I wanna start here: It’s time to admit that the reason students in Arlington County Public Schools are not taught about the real Black History that happened in this County is because of institutional racism.
The School Board has never acknowledged the ugly past of the real story of the steps that led to desegregation. There is an annual program to commemorate the desegregation of Virginia Public Schools which happened in Arlington at Stratford Junior High School on February 2, 1959. But there is no discussion about the full truth that efforts for desegregation began in 1947 and did not end until 1971. Even now some schools in North Arlington are becoming even more segregated with the latest school boundary changes. I learned just days ago that critical programs for children with IEPs are offered at some Arlington elementary schools but not at Drew Elementary School, a school that serves a large contingent of Black and Brown children and has been consistently disenfranchised by the Arlington Public School leadership and the School Board for decades. Drew was one of the last segregated schools in Arlington County in 1971. Yes, you read that correctly. 1971.
Sorry, I digress. Let me stay on point. A more comprehensive description of Arlington school desegregation.
It began with Constance Carter, a resident of the Green Valley neighborhood. Her family sued the Arlington County School Superintendent and the Arlington School Board in 1947. She wanted to enter Washington-Lee High School because Hoffman-Boston, the segregated school for Blacks did not offer the advanced courses which she wanted to enroll. At that time, Hoffman-Boston was not an accredited school. Graduates could not attend college with their diploma. Two other Black students filed suit against the County in September 1949. All these cases were denied, but by October 1949, Arlington County was paying for 33 Black students to attend a vocational school in Manassas, rather than allow them to take the courses at Washington-Lee High School.
Court cases, rulings, and appeals continued across Virginia and other Southern states until some cases were combined and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling was made on May 17, 1954. But that did not deter Virginia or Arlington County from their efforts to deny equal education to their black constituents. The NAACP filed more lawsuits in Virginia than any other state to force integration following the Supreme Court ruling. The Arlington lawsuit was filed on May 17, 1956, exactly two years after the Brown ruling.
U.S. Senator Harry Byrd and his cronies developed the legislative strategy for “Massive Resistance,” to keep Virginia Public Schools segregated. This was an organized effort to defy the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. By the summer of 1958 the federal lawsuit for Arlington, Thompson v. County of Arlington School Board had over 30 student plaintiffs. The School Board lost ruling after ruling. They filed appeal after appeal to deny, then delay as long as possible, the day of desegregation. Finally on February 2, 1959, four Black students were allowed to enroll in Stratford. Desegregation trickled after that date, with students from North Arlington offered more opportunities to enroll in formerly all-white schools over time. The School Board closed John M. Langston School in 1966, the neighborhood elementary school in the Halls Hill community, rather than have White students go to school in a Black community. (Arlington’s answer is ALWAYS to bus Black students to achieve desegregation.) More importantly, the County continued to segregate Black students at Drew and Hoffman-Boston Elementary Schools.
As an excerpt from an Arlington County publication states, “By 1969, Arlington’s junior and senior high schools were all desegregated. Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School had closed in 1964, and Black students were placed in formerly all-white schools. At the elementary school level, however, there were still two schools that were virtually entirely Black.” After yet another series of lawsuits, Arlington finally desegregated by again busing ONLY the Black students to formerly all-white schools in 1971. It took 24 years to fully desegregate this County’s schools. Such a shame. Over 17 years after the U.S Supreme Court ruling.
It’s time to acknowledge the full history. Warts and ugly scars along with the celebration of the small steps we are continuing to take toward equal education for all in Arlington County Public Schools.
To my old readers, yes, I am stepping out of the “Halls Hill History” box a little bit. But its past time to tell the history and share the stories with a new intention and mission. So every Sunday I am going to share a little bit of the history of this County from my perspective. Some things will be from my Halls Hill book. But look out for other historical information I think needs to be shared from any part of Black Arlington.
We can start a conversation here on the blog. Just comment below.
Oh, if you’re a troll, you’ll be blocked. Only thoughtful, insightful, intelligent conversation allowed.
Known as the longest continually operating business in the Halls Hill community, Miss Allen’s Store was originally called, “Allen’s Store,” when it opened in the early 1900’s. The owners were a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wash Allen.
As I described in “My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood,”
Close to “The Bottom,” at 1821 North Columbus Street, Wash Allen and his wife, Rose, operated Allen’s Store, which was the longest continuously open business on Halls Hill. Mr. Wash was a good friend of our Uncle Dede’s. After Mr. Wash’s death, his wife, whom everyone called “Miss Allen,” operated the store and the name eventually morphed into “Miss Allen’s Store.” You could get freshly sliced lunch meat, including bologna, liverwurst, hog’s head cheese, and more. The store had penny candy, potato chips, pork rinds, beef jerky, and those big, deep, round, ice-filled coolers that you dug down into to get a supercold soda from the bottom. And, of course, jars on the counter held sour and dill pickles and pickled pigs’ feet.
A few months after my mom died on Thanksgiving Day 2017, my siblings and I got together to go through family papers and photographs. Each picture or document brought back a flood of memories and lots of discussion. So much laughter and shared stories were exchanged in those hours. As the hours went by and we went through the boxes, one picture brought us all back to Miss Allen’s Store:
Oh my goodness, we howled when we saw this pic! They look so cute!
In case you don’t know them, this is Jay and Cornell Washington, two of my dad’s nephew’s sons. The pic was taken in the mid-1960’s, I am guessing, based on how old they look. The Washington family lived about a block away from our house. Like all the neighborhood kids, we all hung out playing on the playground together. Then all the kids would go to Miss Allen’s to spend our pennies. We also ran errands for our parents because Mrs. Allen knew us all and we were safe to run to the store with our siblings and friends.
We then began to remember stories about our experiences and memories of Miss Allen’s Store. The Rock Creek Fruit Punch. Who else hated Wise Potato Chips? What was the best penny candy? And how good that bologna tasted, freshly sliced on that big green meat slicer that is in the pic behind my cousin’s up on the counter?!
My sister, Audrey’s first job was at Mrs. Allen’s. Mine was, too! Who else worked at Mrs. Allen’s? What are your memories? Share in the comments below.
Things happened really quickly in February. The combination of Black History Month and the commemoration of the 60th year since my brother, Michael Jones, Lance Newman, Ronald Deskins and Gloria Thompson desegregated schools in Arlington created a lot of interest in Halls Hill and the book.
Local television station, WDVM-TV contacted Michael and I and here is the interview.
Thanks to Kiona Dyches, the reporter who had an interest to share the story of our community. It really was more than a neighborhood.
I’m very honored to help spread the story of the Halls Hill community in radio and podcast interviews.
Mr. Jarrett Carter, Sr, host of the Historically Black College and University Digest Podcast and invited me on the show to discuss ‘Halls Hill’ and the Power of Black Communities. The influence of community leaders who were graduates of these important education institutions was important to the young people who had dreams and goals outside the neighborhood. In addition, the importance of the mindset of the people was highlighted. Check it out here —>>> LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW.
Next, the Arlington, Virginia radio station program, “Choose to Be Curious,” hosted by Lynn Borton, featured me in a discussion about being curious about your neighborhood. This talk really nails it when the idea of the importance of saving family and community stories. You can check it out here right now —>>> LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW
More shows are coming soon. Drop a comment below and let me know what you think.
Speaking with Middle School Students About Being a 12 Year Old in 1959
This week I had the privilege of presenting my newest workshop for middle school students at Thomas Jefferson and Swanson Middle Schools. I am partnering with Arlington Humanities to help the students discuss life as a 12 year old African American in Arlington in 1959. These workshops are a part of the Changing the Narrative on Race project provided through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to Virginia Humanities, who have funded projects in six localities in Virginia.
The purpose of the grant program is to develop “Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation initiatives across the Commonwealth. In collaboration with community partners, educators, and librarians, Virginia Humanities is developing programs that use stories to empower Virginians in underserved communities in Arlington, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Richmond, Roanoke, and Harrisonburg. These programs will focus on fostering safe opportunities for all to tell their stories and engage with the experiences of others. “
The workshops are based on the experiences of my sibling interviews and periodical research I completed for my book, My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood.” I had a such a great time interacting and engaging these young minds. Many were surprised by the information. But I was surprised and also moved by some areas of the discussion. Every one of the three sessions were different because of the dynamic of energy between the kids and I.
These workshops and keynotes are so important because it helps the stories come alive. We can delve into the details that matter to them. I make sure to prep so I know what is important. Like how? Well, I knew I’d have a good number of pre-teens boys. So most of my geography references were to the fast food spots. They “got” every one. There’s more to come from this engagement with the students next month. I am so looking forward to it!
The purpose of the book is to share these stories with people, both young and old. This is Arlington history. Virginia history. U.S history. Black history. And yes, even Women’s History.
Thanks for the opportunity, Arlington Humanities. Stay turned for more of events in 2019 . I think everyone enjoyed themselves this week. And I know the ancestors were pleased.
Bordered by George Mason, Glebe Road, and Lee Highway
A closely knit community where Black folks lived and played
From Culpeper to Emerson; numbered streets in between
Proud African-Americans tied to no one’s apron strings
A beautiful oasis surrounded by a Jim Crow County
A community where Black folks owned their property
Mt. Salvation Baptist, Highview Park, and Calloway
Three spiritual havens where we often went to pray
A neighborhood surrounded by the country club’s elite
Yet, Black folks lived a simpler life without outside conceit
A wall divided neighborhoods experiencing neglect
The county looked the other way, showing no respect
Many businesses established by our own entrepreneurs
May not have been wealthy but neither were they poor
Federal, state, and local workers lived on every street
Hicks and Allen’s general stores, we had our own elite
Our Citizens Association was very much concerned
Held monthly meetings and kept residents informed
Joined Martin Luther King in the cause for civil rights
Marched for integration, put an end to racial fights
Langston Elementary is where we earned good grades
Our dedicated teachers ensured that rules were obeyed
When the schools integrated, our parents did not tolerate
Their children at white schools being treated second-rate
Cameron playground where scuffles would break out
Danced to the latest tunes were all teens thought about
Hanging on the corner under dimly lit street lights
Played “Simon Says” during those hot summer nights
Dressed up in the latest fashions was always the rage
House parties attended by those under drinking age
Frequented Suburban Night or Goolby’s Chocolate City
Building razed so long ago by county board committee
The traditional Turkey Bowl held on Thanksgiving Day
Young men and old-timers like joining in the fray
An annual reunion where we love to meet and greet
Rekindling old memories that are always bittersweet
Many homes are torn down or property’s been sold
Young and old have passed away; parents growing old
Hall’s Hill is in transition and will never look the same
Now been overtaken by those with strange surnames
We now sign up on Facebook, just to keep in touch
Talk about the good days and how they meant so much
No matter where we live, no matter what time zone
We’re proud of our village, Hall’s Hill is still our home
For as long as I can remember, there has been a debate about Halls Hill versus Hall’s Hill among community members. I made a self-publishing decision that may irritate the grammar police. I am aware that the word should have an apostrophe to show possessiveness. However, on this project I decided to follow the direction of the older generation in our community.
The county government funded community art projects in the early 2000s. Our neighborhood project, Memory Bricks/The Family, was created by Winnie Owens-Hart in 2004 as the welcoming gateway to our neighborhood.
During the design concept stage, the John M. Langston Citizens Association held a brainstorming session, led by Ms. Hart, with the community. My dad and I attended with about 50 other residents. The question was raised whether to include the apostrophe or not. The overwhelming consensus was to eliminate it. I continue to honor that decision with this book and the Halls Hill project. That’s how I think my daddy would have liked it.
What are your thoughts? Do you write Halls Hill with or without the apostrophe?