To the Editor:
I was moved and humbled by the tribute to Nelson Greene Sr. on the front page of the Nov. 20 edition of the Alexandria Gazette Packet. It served as a subtle reminder of the city’s morally corrupt treatment of the African American community even after passage of the Civil Rights Act. It is difficult to face this part of our history. It was interesting to compare the underlining theme of the Greene story with the opinion piece, “Why Does Alexandria Celebrate Birthday of George Washington?” The first story reminds us of a shameful segment in the city’s history, the second an aspirational view — cloaked in the birth of the nation, its affiliation with a Founding Father, the Commander of the Revolutionary Army and first President. It’s not one view trumps the other, rather it’s an acknowledgement of two realities, and I applaud the editorial staff for publishing both.
Disturbing for me, if true, was another letter to the editor, in which it is alleged Mayor Bill Euille is perpetuating the city’s immoral treatment of what remains of the once thriving African American Woods community by advocating the city rescind its agreement with the community and clear the way for night lights on T.C. Williams High School athletic fields. The city essentially stole the property on which T.C. Williams stands from the African American community in the 1960s, using eminent domain and paying pennies on the dollar. This cleared the way for the school and forced many historically rooted Black families out of the area, the other intended consequence. The one small concession to those who remained was a promise — legally codified — that because their property boarded the field, lights would not be installed. This was reinstated in the agreement that paved the way for construction of the new T.C. Williams.
There is a photo of our mayor at a reception honoring Mr. Greene during the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. If the mayor is indeed the driving force behind installation of night lights at T.C. Williams and the quote attributed to him with respect to the city’s promise to the remaining members of the African American Woods community, “agreements are meant to be broken,” is accurate; it constitutes an immoral affront to Mr. Greene’s pioneering civil rights achievements. He wanted a better life, to be respected and treated equally in the eyes of the law; it would be a sad irony for Bill Euille’s legacy to include accomplishing what Jim Crow laws could not. I hope the allegations against the mayor are false, he needs to make a public declaration. Silence will only substantiate the aforementioned assertion.
Roy R. Byrd