Friday, October 30, 2009

Tricks 'n' Treats

What's In A Name? (I)

Besides dealing with sex businesses next Thursday, Planning Commission will also be hearing a staff proposal to name new private streets to be created by the James Bland redevelopment project.

Normally when new streets are being planned, City staff will research historic land ownership records to determine who originally owned the property. In the case of Bland, one of the most prominent property owners were the Alexanders, for whom the City was named.

In the case of Bland, the City has apparently rejected the notion of naming streets after any whites in favor of honoring the African-American community.

No problem with that. A few years ago when the Berg was redeveloped as Chatham Square, the City made fitting choices for street names by honoring the City's first African-American mayor William D. Euile and Earl Cook (today Alexandria's new police chief). Both were raised in the Berg and their lives have demonstrated how hard work, education and perseverance can lift individuals from the shackles of poverty.

If the City were to again follow this practice, the new streets at Bland might include one named for James Henson, whose family moved to Bland soon after it was opened in the 1950s. Mr. Henson, a great-nephew of famed Polar explorer Matthew Henson, later became the first African-American Assistant County Solicitor in the Howard County Office of Law. Such a street naming would continue the practice of honoring individuals once sheltered by public housing who found a way out through achievement.

If a direct tie with Bland wasn't necessary, other living individuals who could be honored might include people like Earl Lloyd, the Parker-Gray High School graduate who broke the color barrier in the National Basketball Association. Or Jube Shiver, the former Parker-Gray teacher turned enterpreneur who became a prominent developer in southern Fairfax County. Or Ira A. Robinson, the first black elected to City Council since Reconstruction and served from 1970-1973.

What about Lionel Hope, a member of Council and the City's first black Vice Mayor? Hope Street has a great ring to it, don't readers agree?

Then there's Major General Leo A. Brooks, Sr. (USA-Ret.), a graduate of Parker-Gray High School. According to New England's largest African-American newspaper this gentleman not only attained the military rank of General but has two sons who have also achieved the same rank.

Perhaps the City is reticent about naming streets for living individuals. There is still a wealth of names to choose from, including George Soloman, a free black man recently identified to have lived on property in the 1830s that ultimately became the Bland project. Leon Day, an Alexandria native, was a star baseball player in the legendary Negro League and was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995.

What about John A. Seaton, the first black after the Civil War to serve on Alexandria's Board of Aldermen from 1871-1873? Or his brother George L. Seaton? And let's not forget T.B. Pinn, who served on the Common Council as a member of the 4th ward from 1871-1873.

Samuel Tucker, the young man behind the 1939 library sit-down strike, has been honored by a school naming. But what about the others who participated in the landmark civil rights action?

So with this banquet of choices available, City staff are recommending naming an Alexandria City street for an individual who was born, raised and died as a resident of public housing and many of whose children are (or were) long-term public housing residents. And it's the same individual who as head of the ARHA Resident Council helped stall the redevelopment of the Berg for nearly eight years with a flurry of lawsuits against ARHA.

One more illustration that even as City staff think they are being most sensitive they are actually at their most condescending, sacrificing an opportunity to do justice to some of the most important and illustrious African-Americans who lived in this community.

What's In A Name? (II)

The Growler is intrigued by the suggestion that something at Bland be named for ARHA Chairman A. Melvin Miller.

Which of his names should rightly be used? The one he is known by in Alexandria or the one he used throughout his career at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — Albert M. Miller?

What's In A Name (III)

Many readers have noted with amusement that developer EYA has dubbed the James Bland redevelopment site as "Old Town Commons" in its sales materials. (Click on the "Coming Soon" tab on EYA's Web site to read the description.)

Let that be a lesson for those who raised eyebrows when the Inner City Civic Association recently voted to rename itself the "West Old Town Citizens Association."

Younger readers may not know that in the early 1980s the City of Alexandria proposed adding our community to Old Town by placing it in the Old & Historic District and subjecting it to a single board of architectural review. Outcry among the ardent separatists in the community (most of whom are now dead) resulted in the City setting up a distinct Parker-Gray Historic District with its own BAR.

But the original intent was to fold us into Old Town.