Reminder of dark days in a boomer’s community

We might be the luckiest generation, but it’s not as if our lives and our history are all rosy. From time to time we are reminded of that, never more than BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson found recently as he walked around in the community of his childhood … where he still lives.

I don’t like walls … the kind of walls built on a foundation of hatred or dogma or politics that divide people. I find such walls to be personally abhorrent.

Not long ago, I found myself surprised by such a wall very close to me. It is in my own community, a long-standing sign of the racial divide that is endemic in America. As I walked along it, I realized that I had never known of this wall, and that ignorance, my ignorance, left me with a shadow of sadness in my heart.

Hall's Hill Wall.

Hall’s Hill Wall, built in the 1930s.

It’s called Hall’s Hill Wall. It was constructed in the 1930s to restrict a black neighborhood in north Arlington, Virginia. It cut off streets and boxed in dozens of backyards. And here’s the worst part: segments of the wall still stand today, a reminder of segregation at its worst in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from our nation’s proud capital.

The wall’s original purpose? To block the movement of black residents and confine them to Hall’s Hill, a neighborhood of modest homes. Black kids were blocked from attending nearby schools for decades and bused to so-called “black” schools miles away. Black residents were even restricted from walking along sidewalks among houses owned by white folks. Hall’s Hill was physically separated from the adjacent white neighborhood of Waycroft-Woodlawn by this 7-foot wall of brick and cement.

I think what struck me most deeply as I discovered this wall almost in my own backyard is that I had never known of it before … even though I grew up only about a mile south of it. Heck, I had worked while in high school at a radio station just a block west of the wall, but no one ever mentioned it. What’s more, neither the wall nor anything like it was ever mentioned back then in the Arlington County public schools I attended.

David Henderson

David Henderson

Some white neighborhoods in Arlington also relied on homeowner covenants in those days — in addition to walls — to keep African-Americans out. The old covenant of nearby Bellevue Forest, which expired in 1965, stipulated that owners could not sell or rent to “negros, or any person or persons of negro blood or extraction, or to any person of the semetic [sic] race, blood, or origin ….” Those white folks couldn’t spell, I guess.

Chatting with a few older people whose families have resided in Hall’s Hill for generations, one woman told me she had been one of those kids blocked from attending an elementary school simply because of her race. I thought I could hear a trace of sadness in her voice … or was it anger?

Nope … I don’t like walls.

5 Comments

  1. Fascinating. I remember learning as a kid that all of the homes in our Detroit neighborhood had restrictive covenants that forbid homeowners from selling to anyone who wasn’t white. I’m glad those days are over. Hope they’re over for good.

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