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Letter: Why Pit Neighbors Against Neighbors?

To the Editor:

My name is Frances Colbert-Terrell and I have read with great interest the stories you have written and the letters you have published on the City of Alexandria’s proposal to allow sporting events at night at T.C. Williams High School.

I am president of the Seminary Civic Association, an area of 29 homes adjacent to the football field and Quaker Lane. We are the 4th generation of African Americans whose original community of approximately 61 homes was completely decimated by the city for the construction of T.C. Williams High School. It has often been lamented that of all of the property in the City of Alexandria during the early ‘60s, the Civil Rights era, the only place the city could find to place the new high school was right in the middle of this viable, self-sustaining community of homeowners, which, by the way, had been established during the mid to late 1800s.

And if that wasn’t horrific enough, we were still reeling from the destruction of “The Fort” community. That community also of African Americans which had settled on the deserted military fort shortly after the Civil War, had begun establishing home ownership in 1877. They lived there until the 1950-60s when the homeowners were kicked off of their property by, what else, eminent domain for the construction of the historic Fort Ward Park and Museum. That community was an extension of our own Seminary community.

Our community of real estate tax paying citizens, extending from Johnson’s Lane, a few yards north of Bishop and Quaker Lane back to Chinquapin, crossing King over to Braddock was downsized by the city from again 61 to 29 houses on Quaker Lane and in a cul-de-sac on Woods Lane bordering T.C. Williams. Why just 29 houses from such a large area? Well several of those homeowners were seniors who had already paid off their homes and were no longer in a position to be able to take on a new mortgage. They were forced to move out of the community as the cost of a new “urban renewal” home was higher than what the city had paid for the demolition of their homes. Back then, coming out of a time period when ownership of anything was impossible to them, it was a code of honor for families to pass on their property to their heirs debt free. And to justify this mass destruction, which of course, was done for the greater good of the community as a whole, the city placed the derogatory label of “Mudtown” on our community which had heretofore been known as simply Seminary. Mudtown to us is synonymous to the “N-word.”

The Seminary community has made many sacrifices for the public good. We have given a lot in support of public education in Alexandria. In fact, in 1927 William Wood whose family still resides in our community today actually gave a portion of the land where TC sits today for the establishment of the first African American Rosenwald Elementary School.

As most may know, with the construction of the school in 1965, there was an agreement between the school, city and our community that no lights would be placed on any athletic field in consideration of the quality of life of the community. In 2004, TC was enlarged, and that agreement was respected.

Now, city leaders are attempting to do an about face; to break their word; to renege on their promise, to put up lights for night sporting events. Frankly, the location of the football field does not lend itself, and has never lent itself, to continuous day and night use for football and other sports. Actually, we have no problem with the students having night football games in Alexandria, but rather than renege on a promise city leaders should explore the use of more suitable sites for a day-night sports complex. George Washington Middle School and Ben Brenman Park seem to be alternatives. When I was in high school, GW and Parker Gray both had night football games. Unfortunately Parker Gray school and field was removed.

We do empathize with the students being denied Friday night games at TC, but lights on the stadium and the ensuing challenges those continuous lights would present, including noise, traffic congestion, crowd behavior, and litter, would have an adverse and detrimental impact on our community. For those who adamantly support lights, and consider us selfish and opposed to change consider this, the students are inconvenienced for four years; our sacrifice would be for a life time. City leaders need to be good neighbors and work with long-standing communities rather than force decisions in that pit residents against each other.

Frances Colbert Terrell

Alexandria