Letter to the Editor: Alexandria, Don't Break This Promise

Letter to the Editor: Alexandria, Don't Break This Promise

A hot issue for the past several years has been centered on T.C. Williams High School — specifically, placing lights on the Parker Gray Stadium which the Seminary Civic Association vehemently opposes. A promise by the city and school board was made to our community when the first TC was erected in 1965, re-enforced and documented in 2004 in the Developmental Special Use Permit (DSUP) when the school was expanded, and respected in 2014 when the tennis court lights were installed. The promise was that no permanent stadium lighting would be installed on any athletic high school field in consideration of the quality of life of the adjoining neighborhoods.

Recently the school board has been pushing to revise the composition of the TC Advisory Committee set up and active since 2007 in accordance with the DSUP made up of the school Board, TC school staff, the Parks and Recreation Department and the adjoining neighborhoods. The purpose of the realignment is obviously to incorporate support for lights from the larger school community whose neighborhoods will not be affected by the addition of lights as those adjoining communities surely will be. Our primary concern is with the Parks and Recreation’s accessibility to the field. We fear the field, thus the lights, will be in continuous use, not just Friday night football. This issue will be going before the City Council shortly for resolution. It is our ardent hope that the City Council will honor its word to us and will vote against the installation of lights at the Parker Gray Stadium. If we, the people, can’t depend on the government to keep its word, who can we trust?

Who are we that we have the audacity to expect the city to honor a promise made decades ago, you ask. Well as recently made clear to the school board, to no avail, the very land that TC sits on was originally owned by African Americans. Notice, I said “owned.” It was not the Projects, low income, subsidized, or section 8 housing. It was a viable, self-sustaining community of taxpaying homeowners, which, by the way had been established during the mid to late 1800s. We owned the property from a few yards north of Bishop Lane on Quaker (where my grandparents lived) back to Chinquapin, across King Street to Braddock Road. In fact my husband’s family’s home address was 3330 King Street. Wow, the actual address of TC Williams.

In 1964, before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, and while we were still reeling from the shock of having our extended community put off of their property at Fort Ward to establish the historic park, the City of Alexandria, having determined the need for a new high school with the onset of integration, decided the only place in the entire city which would accommodate the school was right in the middle of our African American community. So by eminent domain with a total and complete lack of consideration for us as human beings during this period of segregation, they completely decimated our community, downsizing it from roughly 61 homes spread across this sizeable area to 32 homes of which 23 are located in a cul de sac at Woods Lane, which of course borders the school. That was the first step in undermining and disrespecting us as a people who had the audacity to be homeowners at a time when we weren’t allowed to sit up front on buses, drink from the same water fountains, use the same bathrooms, eat at the same restaurants, you know the rest. Not only did they take the homes, for the betterment of the city as a whole, our ancestors had to purchase the houses they built at a price much higher than what they were given as the value of their destroyed homes. We adapted as usual.

Then 40 years later in 2004, they came back for the second time with the expansion of the school making our property on Woods Lane a mere stones throw, a matter of feet, not acres, from the boundary of the school. This of course further infringed on our quality of life — more students, more noise, more trash, more traffic, more often. The DSUP approved by the city between the school, city and adjoining neighborhoods established Condition 69 of the Advisory Committee for the purpose of facilitating and resolving neighborhood issues resulting from the ongoing operation of the school, the expansion.

And now here we are again, 53 years later and the school board is again imposing on the same African American community with TC lights. I won’t go into the litany of issues our community would face, including property devaluation, should this come to pass. In closing, in this time of budget austerity, and with all of the other issues mandating budgetary consideration — Metro, infrastructure, school expansion — we the 4th and 5th generation of the Seminary community, implore the City Council to oppose the installation of lights and honor your word to our community.

Let me get personal here. I’ll repeat a very familiar refrain in today’s culture. “Black Lives Matter.”

Frances Colbert Terrell

President, Seminary Civic Association