This Thursday night, the School Board plans to vote on the lighting of the Parker Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School. The long and perhaps unknown history of the location of both the school and the stadium gives everyone a reason to consider why lights should never be placed in this location.
For many years following the Civil War, there was a thriving community of African Americans living around what we know today as Fort Ward Park. When the city decided to make this a park, they took the land and relocated my ancestors to another thriving African American community where T.C. Williams H.S. and Parker-Gray Stadium stand today. This community of African Americans is known as the Woods Community, unlike many other African American communities in the city, the Woods Community owned their land, stretching from the Quaker Lane area, through where the school and field are to Scroggins Road and further north and west.
In the early ‘60s when the city decided they wanted a new high school, they took the land from this African American community, using the Minimum House-Hygiene Ordinance passed in December 1957 to devalue the property, making it easier for the government to take the land. “Negro residents of the area … had charged that selection of Mudtown as a school site was one of a series of devices to force them out of a location their families had occupied since Civil War days.” (“Compromise on Mudtown is Proposed,” Washington Post Nov. 16, 1960.) Owning land in Alexandria wasn't easy for African American families at that time. When they lost their land, some of those families were forced to move from the Woods Community, and in their move had to deal with discriminatory restrictive covenants, but many remained located right next to the new high school on Woods Avenue and Woods Place. The Woods family still lives in these homes today.
Many remember losing their homes to the city, and how the City of Alexandria treated African Americans in the 1960s, a time more recent than many care to admit or even realize.
And this is how the city and the School Board plan to continue treating us in this community. This historic community, which gave up their homes and land for Fort Ward Park and then again for T.C. Williams, is now being told that they must have the value of their homes and land greatly diminished to make way for lights on a football field. Lighting this football field and stadium will pollute the surrounding neighborhoods with excess light and glare and constant noise from events into the evenings and nights.
This field (which once belonged to my great grandparents and others in the community) is not really for T.C. Williams athletes, but will be used as a city stadium for all sorts of non-high school events, including fee for usage events. Lighting the field for student use is one thing, but we already know it will be rented out to the highest bidder and lit well beyond the hours of typical school activities – the last bus at T.C. Williams leaves at 6:30p.m. Lighting this field is not about football for high school students. Lighting Parker Gray Stadium (named for the former all black segregated high school in the city) is about betraying people with deep roots in Alexandria again; about treating neighbors, specifically the Woods Community, who have already given so much, as if it were still the 1960s, when taking from black landowners was acceptable public policy.
This is the same community abused in the '60s and now, set to be abused again – the families that occupied the Woods Community in 1960 are the same families that occupy these homes today.
When is it OK to break a promise, destroy a neighborhood and ignore commitments? It is disheartening that this School Board seems to think that in this teachable moment it is an acceptable lesson to teach our youth and future leaders that promises do not matter and showing respect towards a group of people who have already been forced to give up so much is unnecessary. The response from the School Board and city officials that it was not us that made that promise is an unacceptable answer to this African American community and should be unacceptable to the all residents of Alexandria, especially given the promise was made again and reaffirmed with the recent redevelopment of T.C. Williams in 2007.
We hope that city officials from the School Board, Planning Commission, and City Council make decisions consistent with the acts of their predecessors in 2007 and not their predecessors of the 1960s.
*It should be noted that members of the community view the term "Mudtown" as a slur imposed upon the community by the city that still marks real estate records.