Alexandria, VA

Joseph McCoy was lynched at the corner of Lee Street and Cameron Street in Old Town 124 years ago today. The incident was recognized in a small ceremony Friday morning with a group of residents and Mayor Justin Wilson.

This weekend, City Hall will be lit in purple in memory of the 19-year-old McCoy, who was arrested without a warrant and then murdered on April 23, 1897. A mob of white residents stormed the Police House (now City Hall), where McCoy was being held after being accused of sexually assaulting three women. He was shot, stabbed and hanged from a lamppost.

McCoy’s death is one of two lynchings that took place in Alexandria. The other was 20-year-old Benjamin Thomas, who was shot to death and hanged the following year by a mob of residents in Old Town.

Residents are invited to a virtual lecture on lynching by historian Susan Strasser and poetry reading on Saturday at 1 p.m.

A marker was recently installed at the site. It reads:

On a lamppost at this corner on April 23, 1897, Black Alexandria teenager Joseph H. McCoy was lynched. McCoy’s white employer, Richard Lacy, alleged that McCoy had sexually assaulted his daughter. Similar accusations were routinely used against Black males to ensure domination and provoke racial terror within the African American community. McCoy was arrested without a warrant and held prisoner at the police station, located at present-day City Hall.

After multiple attacks on the station by hundreds of white men, the mob broke through McCoy’s cell door and dragged him one block to this location. They shot him several times, bludgeoned him with an ax, and hanged him. The Alexandria Gazette reported that “other indignities were heaped upon his quivering remains.” Such historically coded language suggested dismemberment, including castration, that was often inflicted on Black males who were lynched, especially in cases involving a perceived indignity to a white female.

Virginia Governor Charles O’Ferrall launched an investigation into the lynching. He laid blame on Alexandria Mayor Luther Thompson for failing to respond to repeated attacks despite knowing the mob intended to lynch McCoy. No officials or law enforcement officers were held accountable and no members of the white mob were ever arrested for McCoy’s murder. Several Black men, however, were arrested based on rumors of retaliation.

Upon viewing her nephew’s body, McCoy’s aunt declared, “As the people killed him, they will have to bury him.” At the funeral, Rev. William Gaines of Roberts Chapel proclaimed, “I trust that the time will soon come when all people will realize the fact that the same judgment which they measure to others will be measured to them at the bar of God.”

Joseph H. McCoy was buried in a pauper’s grave at Penny Hill Cemetery.

Image via Justin Wilson/Twitter

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It was another busy week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.

This week, ALXnow profiled Mayor Justin Wilson and his opponent, former Mayor Allison Silberberg. The pair are facing off in the June 8 Democratic primary, and have vastly different ideas on city governance.

Alexandria Police released its 2020 crime data this week, revealing a 19% increase in Part 1 crime and 15% reduction in Nuisance crimes. ALXnow also reported a number of noteworthy crime stories, including the release of a video showing a chase suspect who died after his arrest in D.C. on April 12, and the indictment of a West End murder suspect.

This week also brought the unbelievable story of locals chasing down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray.

On the vaccine front, the Alexandria Health Department paused Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, following new concerns about potential side effects.

In school news, Alexandria City Public Schools will shift to three feet distancing in classrooms on April 26. Additionally, the School Board has started a conversation on reducing the number of members from nine to six.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: ‘Alexandria City High School’ chosen as replacement name for T.C. Williams High School
  2. JUST IN: Dr. Stephen Haering suddenly retires as director of Alexandria Health Department
  3. Southern Towers residents nervous as landlord steps up eviction proceedings
  4. Man stabbed at Old Town intersection
  5. NEW: Locals chase down suspected shoplifters in Del Ray
  6. JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
  7. Man faces 10 years for DWI in horrific West End crash in Safeway parking lot
  8. Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
  9. JUST IN: Video released of police arresting chase suspect who died in D.C.
  10. JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
  11. JUST IN: West End murder suspect faces life plus 13 years in prison

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) Alexandria City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools are investigating allegations that members of the Robinson Rams junior varsity football team spit at and made a racial slur against T.C. Williams High School football players in a game on Monday, April 5.

“Yes, I am aware of these reports,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “It is horrifying that our students were the victims of this abuse and assault. I have been in contact with the School Board Chair, Vice Chair and Superintendent about this incident. I have also connected with my counterpart in Fairfax County, Jeff McKay. I believe it is being investigated by both school systems and I hope it will be addressed promptly.”

The game was played at James W Robinson, Jr. Secondary School, and the Rams won 20-6, although T.C. players reportedly walked off the field in protest before the end of the fourth quarter.

ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that he is working with Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott Brabrand and his team to “collaborate with the leadership of the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to address this issue and support our students.”

“I want everyone to know that we are taking this matter seriously and have been in communication with our students and coaching staff who were involved or who witnessed the incident,” Hutchings said in an email.

Hutchings continued, “These events in our schools continue to shine a light on the importance of our antiracism work at ACPS and across the nation and the need for an open dialogue about how this impacts our students and their social, emotional and academic learning. To that end, once we have developed next steps with VHSL, we will share additional communications with the ACPS community.”

The incident is the second of its kind in Fairfax County Public Schools in recent days. On March 5, members of the Marshall High School Varsity Football Team allegedly spat at and made racial slurs against their Wakefield High School opponents.

FCPS released the following statement to ALXnow:

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is aware of a number of allegations regarding the use of racially charged language and racial slurs in the past few weeks.

Our school division embraces diversity and strongly condemns hate speech and offensive, hateful language or racial intolerance of any kind on the sports fields, in school buildings or anywhere on or off school premises. We will hold anyone found to have used such language while representing any of our schools accountable for their words and actions.

FCPS will investigate any incidents thoroughly and will be taking swift and appropriate action if deemed necessary. Per Virginia High School League (VHSL) rules, players heard using such language will be ejected and suspended for additional game(s). Unsportsmanlike conduct will result in an immediate review of the game by officials and coaches.

The primary responsibilities of schools are to foster an open, respectful and inclusive learning environment for all students. We recognize that we have much work to do in our schools and will continue to strive to promote equity, sportsmanship, respect, and fair play on and off the field.

FCPS will be holding a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches to begin this important conversation to support student-athletes in demonstrating appropriate behaviors required to play sports in FCPS. This is not about one team versus another; it is about our responsibilities to one another as members of a community. We will do the work to come together in fair treatment and take necessary actions to ensure these efforts support inclusion both in the classrooms as well as across our athletic programs. We value each and every student and staff member, and we are committed to doing the work to ensure all are treated in this regard.

T.C. Williams High School Principal Peter Balas emailed students about the incident. He wrote that Titan Athletics Director, James Parker, and he met with the student athletes and coaches of both the varsity and junior varsity football teams. He also said that T.C. has contacted the Robinson athletics staff.

“These discussions were in response to allegations of inappropriate interactions between athletes on opposing teams at Monday night’s junior varsity football game,” Balas wrote. “Specifically, we were collecting information and statements to learn more about what happened regarding the allegations that one of our students was spat on during the game and called a racial slur.”

Balas continued, “Please rest assured that we will continue to work with our staff and students regarding this situation and that we will make sure our students are supported and protected. The work that we have been doing in our school division on becoming an anti-racist school division means that we must confront these issues head-on and be unapologetic in addressing matters around racism and racial equity.”

Photos via T.C. Williams Football Boosters/Facebook

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Kevin Harris sees himself as a man of the people, someone residents can confide in to help solve their problems.

The 40-year-old local business owner says he decided on March 1 to run for City Council as a democrat in the June 8 primary.

“My champion issue is equity,” Harris told ALXnow. “I want people to know that I’m an individual that you can connect with, that you can talk with, that you can come up to. I’m approachable and I’m relatable. I want people to feel comfortable talking with me to understand that I care, that they’ll get a real response and that I’m going to genuinely look into the matter.”

He’s the former president of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) Resident Association, and since 2003 has owned Hoop Life Inc., which teaches basketball camps, clinics, classes and after-school programs in the city and throughout Northern Virginia.

Harris lives with his wife and four children in Old Town. He’s is a native of Washington, D.C., and has lived in Alexandria for more than 25 years. He’s got a bachelor’s degree in business from Alabama State University, where he got a full athletic scholarship and was named captain of the basketball team. He later played professionally for the Dakota Wizards before starting Hoop Life, Inc. 

Harris said systemic racism persists in the city, and highlights the creation of an ARHA safety committee to meet with police as one of his achievements. The public housing community has had busy last few years worth of shots fired incidents and other criminal activity, and Harris said residents are tired of feeling powerless.

“I deal with so many individuals who work in this city who can’t afford to live and talking to them to hearing their stories, it’s just it’s just troublesome,” he said. “There was an idea and a notion from the surrounding communities that ARHA residents are almost collaborators in the criminal activity that is taking place… But all these residents from all these different properties came together to organize to one speak to the fact of trying to build a better relationship with the police department.”

Affordable housing is also one of Harris’ key issues.

“I can’t stand to see people try to take advantage of others just because they feel like they’re in a position of power,” he said. “Think about it: 90% of the city’s affordable housing is gone. There’s a lot of individuals, especially individuals of color who have moved out of the city, who can’t afford to live here any longer. There’s a sense of gentrification. You see those changes in the school system, you see those changes in business, you see those changes in the communities. Some of these areas that were predominantly African American are no longer. So, I want to make sure that things are going in the right direction and be that voice for those individuals to make sure that their needs are being met, as well as everyone else.”

Photo via Kevin Harris/Facebook

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The Alexandria School Board on Thursday, March 18, will conduct a public hearing on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The 5 p.m. public hearing will allow testimony from residents on what they think about proposals by Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings to respectively rename them “Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”. The two finalist names were chosen from a list that ACPS released last month.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was an avowed segregationist who worked to limit the number of Black students in segregated schools. Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was a pioneering oceanographer during the 19th century, was also a leader in the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A recent ALXnow poll on the issue found that, out of more than 800 respondents, 67% liked the high school name but not the elementary school name; 20% were happy with both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 5% liked the elementary school name but not the high school name.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1371493556528025602

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What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Old Town shop fibre space on March 3. It was Harris’ first official visit outside of the White House since she was inaugurated, and she spoke about the American Rescue Plan with shop owner Danielle Romanetti.

Alexandria City Public Schools reopened for hybrid instruction this week, the first time since all school facilities were shut down on March 13. The school system reportedly welcomed back 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade. ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.

On the coronavirus front, the number  of deaths due to the virus has climbed to 123, and cases are at 10,404 since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020. Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is doing well keeping the numbers down, although with a vaccine waiting list exceeding 45,000 and 3,000 vaccine doses being given out weekly, distribution will continue to be slow.

More than 550 people responded to this week’s poll on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. About 60% of respondents said they were happy with Alexandria High School, but not with Naomi Brooks Elementary School; 25% said they liked both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 6% didn’t like the high school name and were happy with the elementary school name.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:

Here are our most-read posts this week:

  1. Just In: Vice President Visits Old Town Shop Fibre Space
  2. Alexandria Wants Feedback on Building Spray Park in Del Ray
  3. El Chapo’s Wife to be Isolated in Alexandria Jail for One Month Per COVID-19 Distancing Rules
  4. Consultant Proposes Replacing Community Shelter with Mixed-Use Development
  5. Alexandria Advocacy Facebook Group Parodied in New Blog
  6. Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
  7. Patrick Moran, Son of Former Congressman Jim Moran, is Running for City Council
  8. ACPS Reopens its Doors and Evaluating Grading System for Traumatized Students
  9. Man Arrested for High-Speed Vehicle Race on I-495
  10. Meronne Teklu Enters City Council Race
  11. Neighborhood Spotlight: Old Town is the New Town

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via Peter Velz/Twitter 

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What was meant to be a fun, wholesome Super Bowl watch-party with City Councilman John Chapman this weekend was briefly derailed as the meeting was stormed by newcomers with Nazi profile pictures spouting racist slurs.

The meeting was hosted as part of Chapman’s reelection campaign. The event was open to the public and had fairly lax restrictions on who could speak.

“I caught on pretty quick once somebody started yelling the N word over and over again,” Chapman said. “We had 30 folks in with multiple pages of people. I found the person talking and they didn’t have their face up but they had a swastika.”

The first Nazi was quickly joined by more. Chapman estimated around six in total came in, shouting profanity and slurs, for around two minutes until the group’s admins were able to block them.

While white nationalism has been on the rise in the United States, Chapman said it’s the first time he’s confronted something like it head-on in the campaign trail.

Moving forward, Chapman said all campaign events are going to have a little tighter scrutiny of who gets to talk.

“We’re definitely going to use this opportunity to tighten our protocol,” Chapman said. “A lot of campaigns are going to be virtual, so we have to be tighter about who we let in and how we watch that. We have to make sure we have admins running events, because I have no doubt it happen again.”

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Congressman John Lewis and 1972 Titan Petey Jones are just a few names that have made the latest cut in the rename process for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The semifinalist names for the schools have been selected, and ACPS has launched another set of polls to further slim down the selection. The polls close on Feb. 19 and the top three names from each poll will be presented to the School Board for final consideration on March 4. There will be a public hearing on March 18, and then the Board will vote on the names on April 8.

T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.

The official names will be implemented on July 1, and ACPS estimates that it will cost $325,000 to rename T.C. and more than $5,000 to rename Maury.

Semifinalist replacement names for T.C. Williams High School:

Semifinalist replacement names for Matthew Maury Elementary School:

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Every month, Agenda Alexandria tackles a topic of significance to the public. This month, the organization is hitting two of the biggest talking points of 2020 in one fell swoop: how is Alexandria influenced and impacted by institutional racism.

A discussion with Bernadette Onyenaka, co-founder of the O&G Racial Equity Collaborative, and Sara VanderGoot, co-owner of Mind the Mat, is scheduled Monday, Jan. 25, from 6:30-8 p.m. The program will be streamed live.

“In response to the murder of George Floyd, deep inequities in COVID-19 outcomes between people of color and their white counterparts, and the recent presidential election, Americans are engaging in a new conversation about race and structural racism,” the group set on the organization website. “At a local level, Alexandria is not immune from these issues and therefore cannot escape these conversations. Yet sometimes it seems as though we are talking past each other instead of listening and engaging in a dialogue that will move our city forward. Community conversations that bring important stakeholders together to discuss race, equity, and inclusion can help Alexandria’s growth.”

The discussion will focus on methods of discussing diversity, equity and inclusion to create better conversations.

“From an educational perspective, what do important terms such as allyship, racial justice, and microagressions mean?,” the group said. “Join us live online Monday, Jan. from 6:30-8 p.m. for a conversation with local and national leaders on what it will take to advance a new dialogue and new action on race, equity and inclusion.”

Staff photo by James Cullum

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After a unanimous vote at the Alexandria School Board meeting last night, the names T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School were voted out — with the replacements still to be decided.

Over the next few months, the School Board will seek public feedback before settling on a new pair of names. The new names will be chosen by the Board in the spring and go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

“I’m excited for this moment,” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, who recently threw his name in among supporters of the change. “It’s finally here. On behalf of our students: this is a historic moment for everybody. For many years people have been trying to have the name of T.C. Williams in particular changed… I want to commend the Board for allowing us to be able toe explore and get information from our community.”

T.C. Williams High School is the biggest public high school in Virginia, and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was an avowed segregationist. Matthew Maury Elementary School is named after an oceanographer and Confederate leader.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

“We can’t change history, but we can change what history we choose to honor,” said School Board member Michelle Rief. “The names were selected not because of their accomplishments, but as declarations of our community values in 1929 and in 1962. We have an opportunity to right that wrong.”

While the School Board members unanimously supported, others acknowledged that the symbolic change is far from the end of the discussion about eliminating vestiges of racism in the school infrastructure.

“T.C. and Maury no longer reflect who we are as a society, at least in Alexandria,” School Board member Heather Thornton said. “This is a symbolic step. Changing the name of T.C. is not going to do anything to eliminate systemic racism and barriers. It’s not going to solve anything. I hope people stay engaged and know this is a first step, but there are many things we need to have community engaged on.”

Thornton also pointed to disproportionality in suspension rates and graduation rates as lingering reminders of inequality in Alexandria City Public Schools, topics discussed later in the meeting.

“We can change the name all we want,” Thornton said, “but if we don’t change foundational issues I don’t think we will really achieve what we’re hoping to achieve as a school division.”

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