While the city is making strides to honor the victims of two Alexandria lynchings, a member of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project noted in a recent meeting that a third victim — the first recorded in the city — has been neglected in part due to a technicality.
Thanks in large part to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), a non-profit based out of Alabama working to commemorate victims of lynching, the city has started to do more work to commemorate the victims of lynchings in 1897 and 1899. In particular, however, the EJI focuses on lynchings between 1877 and 1950, while Alexandria’s first recorded lynching occurred over ten years before that period started.
“I think we should have a historic OHA marker for John Anderson, who was killed by a mob of white men on Christmas Day in 1865 at West and King Street,” said Tiffany Pache of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project. “I think we should start talking about him as our first documented lynching.”
One of the goals of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project was to dig through archives and see if other lynchings in the city’s history might not have been as noted as the deaths of Joseph McCoy in 1897 and Benjamin Thomas in 1899. A newsletter from the project in December 2021 compiled accounts from various news organizations about the murder of John Anderson on Christmas Day in 1865.
A group of white men, just after the end of the Civil War, undertook a campaign of violence across the city, attacking several Black residents and causing serious injuries. John Anderson, a Black man who resided near King Street, left his Christmas dinner to try and put an end to the violence after he heard a Black soldier had been beaten. However, after approaching the mob, Anderson was beaten and fatally shot.
According to the project’s newsletter:
Anderson crossed the street diagonally toward John Mankin, who stood on Gregg’s corner in a dark coat and slouch hat. Anderson did not speak again. As he stepped over the curbstone, Mankin attempted to strike him, but Anderson deftly blocked the punch. As Anderson readied for a fist fight, Mankin beckoned a crowd of whites. He pulled something out of his pocket. Extending his arm, he revealed a gun and shot Anderson in the thigh.
Anderson turned. Suddenly, John’s brother Oscar Mankin was there, at the forefront of a gang of white men. He shot Anderson in the head. Anderson took a few steps and fell to the ground, where he was pelted with stones and bricks thrown by the mob. Huntington and John L. Heck were there, as was George Javins, according to witnesses. John Anderson died five days later from a gunshot wound to the left side of his skull.
Pache said while the murder is outside of the dates covered by the EJI, it still merits some recognition from the city.
While the newsletter extensively covers the story of the murder and the aftermath, Pache said there are also likely court records from the incident that the city hasn’t accessed.
“The current research is based on newspaper accounts, but there was also a court case that tried the men,” Pache said. “[They] were convicted and sent to Ohio, then they were released after only a few months. There was a court-martial, because the military was still here, so I want to get my hands on that.”
Thomas, one of two black Alexandrians murdered by lynch mobs, was 16 when he was hanged and shot at the corner of King and Fairfax streets in 1899.
According to the City of Alexandria:
Thomas was arrested on Monday, August 7, 1899, for allegedly assaulting a white girl, but this was never proven. That night, Black community leaders warned police and the mayor that another lynching might occur, similar to the lynching of Joseph McCoy two years earlier on April 23, 1897. When the authorities refused their entreaties, the African American Alexandrians tried to protect Thomas themselves, standing guard near where he was being held. The police arrested them, and the next morning, they were, tried, fined and sent to the chain gang. The next night, somewhere between 500 and 2000 Alexandrians took Benjamin Thomas from the city jail on St. Asaph Street, dragged him over cobblestones for half-a-mile to the corner of King and Fairfax Streets where they hanged and shot the young man.
The ceremony will take place at 6 p.m. at 401 N. St. Asaph Street.
“Participants will be invited to solemnly walk the half-mile trail the lynch mob took down St. Asaph Street to King Street and then to the intersection with Fairfax Street,” the city’s website said. “Upon arriving at the site of the lynching of Benjamin Thomas we will hold a wreath-laying ceremony.”
City Hall, the lamp post where Thomas was lynched, and the George Washington Masonic Memorial will be lit up in purple to commemorate Thomas.
Image via City of Alexandria
Despite previous commitments to diversity, including recruitment efforts and leadership from a Black chief of police, the Alexandria Police Department is contending with diversity issues.
Officers tell ALXnow a reorganization that occurred after Chief Don Hayes stepped into his leadership role in 2021 rewarded close connections and disregarded officers of color and civilian staff, which they say is a sign that Hayes does not want to make waves.
Now, most of APD’s leadership remains white and officers of color say they are being passed over.
“The way it’s set up now, the department’s leadership will be completely white for 20 years,” said an APD employee who spoke anonymously. “[The chief’s] actions always seem to have an adverse effect on employees of color.”
The department’s leadership of sergeant through captain is mostly white, with people of color making up a relatively small percentage. APD has no non-white captains or detectives, and only 10 sergeants of color out of 38 sergeant positions, according to a staffing directory provided by APD.
The two highest-ranking Black women in the department are sergeants, per the directory. There are no Asian officers above the rank of sergeant, and there is only one Hispanic lieutenant.
Some officers have tried many avenues for addressing this, including ethics complaints, meetings with Hayes and possibly unionizing, but have not gotten anywhere, fearing retaliation.
“I have thought about leaving,” a APD employee said. “Why should I go for a promotion? I want to get my money and I just want to go home and be left alone when I’m off the clock.”
ALXnow interviewed nine employees who spoke under the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation. Those employees alleged that recent departmental actions aren’t simply an oversight, but instead a concentrated effort against minorities. Hayes declined to be interviewed on diversity and his restructuring over the course of the last two months by ALXnow.
“There are great people, employees, officers and civilian staff that work at APD,” an employee said. “But there are also some very rotten ones. And unfortunately, some of those rotten ones work in the middle management and leadership. And they have an impact on the morale and the culture of the organization.”
“Unfortunately, unless someone ever notices it, it’s just gonna be a slippery slope,” the employee continued. “If they’re all there, the turnover is going to be high.”
Staff also feel like Hayes could have been a mentor, but is alienating them and not often present due to his other duties as a pastor. Since last summer, Hayes has been interim pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Arlington.
The fallout from a lack of diversity in middle management is something that people who specialize in diversity initiatives say is a key hindrance to changing the status quo.
At a City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson unveiled the next stage of plans to ramp up the renaming of streets that honor Confederate leaders, the Washington Post first reported.
While the city has renamed the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway and removed the Appomattox statue, streets honoring Confederate leaders like the “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby or Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest still exist around the city.
Discussions to rename more streets began last October, but there’s a much longer history of Civil War names on streets dividing Alexandria. As of 2018, about 60 streets potentially were named for Confederate leaders, but in some cases — such as Lee Street — the historical record is unclear about a street’s namesake.
The mayor said his new plans stem from the conversation that kicked off last fall.
“Last year, I talked on the dais about a process and a deliberate schedule to identify street names in our city that really were designed as a permanent protest against the civil rights movement and growing political power for African Americans in our city,” Wilson said. “Those places and those honors have no place in our city.”
Wilson said his plan is for two committees to work in tandem to find both streets to rename and suitable names to replace them.
Historic Alexandria Resources Commission would develop a list of people, events and locations that deserve honors, with a focus on women and minorities — people traditionally underrepresented in city honors. The City Council Naming Committee, meanwhile, would identify which streets should be prioritized for renaming.
Wilson said the city should aim to rename three streets each year, which would “keep us busy for quite a while” but would also give city leadership space to determine if that’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough.
The proposal found widespread support on the City Council, where others said they had first-hand experience with how difficult the legacy of Confederate honors can be to escape.
“As someone who bought a home in Alexandria just a few years ago on the West End, it was very startling how many houses we looked at were on streets with names I would have a hard time living on,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “We thought we dodged that, but as it turns out our current street is named after a Confederate naval vessel.”
The memo is set for review as part of the city’s budget process. City Manager James Parajon is scheduled to present a draft of the budget to the City Council on Feb. 28, followed by a period of meetings and discussions that culminate with a vote on the budget in May.
At tonight’s Alexandria City Council meeting, @justindotnet proposed a plan to speed up the renaming of the 41+ streets in town named after Confederate leaders.
It would direct a cmte. to rename 3 of those a year, drawing from a list of new honorees emphasizing women & POC pic.twitter.com/nLZ1w6p7qI
— Teo Armus (@teoarmus) January 11, 2023
Years before Alexandria would grapple with collective bargaining and the legacy of discrimination in schools, Virginia was ruled by a political faction dead-set on fighting unionization and integration.
Alexandria reporter Michael Lee Pope — a reporter with the Alexandria Gazette who has frequently covered Virginia’s state politics for WAMU — announced a new book last week that dives into the history of The Byrd Machine, a political operation led by Harry Byrd that dominated Virginia politics during the mid-20th century.
The Byrd Machine in Virginia charts the rise and fall of the eponymous political block, with both a look back at the history of the previous “machines” that made The Byrd Machine possible.
Pope said Byrd’s career started as a movement aimed primarily at eliminating debt.
“He got into this political debate when he was in the Senate about road building and not making debt. This is his whole thing, he’s very consistent, he doesn’t like debt.”
Pope said Byrd’s early campaign was about paying for projects as you go and he developed a name for himself as someone making the state government pay its debt. Byrd had a reputation as a penny pincher, going back to driving to Maryland every day to get cheaper rolls of paper for a failing Winchester newspaper he owned.
After being elected as governor in 1926, Byrd started to take measures to coalesce power and keep those in the Byrd Machine in power.
Two of the biggest legacies of Byrd, Pope said, is his opposition to unions and integration. In 1946, workers at VEPCO, the predecessor to Dominion Energy, attempted to form a strike and unionize. Governor William Tuck, a successor to Byrd and a part of his machine, drafted the workers into the state’s national guard and threatened to court martial them if they attempted to strike.
“So many people blame the Byrd machine for all manner of things,” Pope said. “This issue of collective bargaining… only recently given the legal ability to do collective bargaining. That was taken away in the 90s. It would be easy to blame Byrd and say ‘that’s the Byrd machine’ but that’s 1990s era politics.”
Still, Pope said the anti-unionization work in the 90s was still part of the legacy of Byrd’s politics.
“At the same time, don’t forget these people pioneered union-busting in a way that was visionary for its time,” Pope said, “There is an important part of collective bargaining as part of that legacy.”
The more well-known parts of Byrd’s legacy is arguably the machine’s opposition to integration. It was also the position that set the stage for the machine’s downfall. The Byrd Machine was instrumental in keeping schools segregated to the point of closing public schools rather than seeing them integrated in the late 1950s.
Though the machine had a “swan song” in the 1960s, Pope said the controversies around massive resistance ultimately led to the fracturing of The Byrd Machine as the Lyndon Johnson presidency divided the loyalties of racist southern Democrats.
Pope said he is planning to host a launch event for the book at The Athenaeum (201 Prince Street) on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m.
The Alexandria Community Remembrance Project (ACRP) has organized a pilgrimage to the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum next month, and today (Tuesday) is the last chance for locals to register to join the trip.
Community members will transport soil from where two Black Alexandrians were lynched. The trip will involve visits to historical sites around Alabama and evening programs with guest speakers.
“You can choose to travel with us by bus from Alexandria, or you can join us in Montgomery,” the city website said. “This trip, October 6-10, includes chartered busses, discounted hotel stays, curated social justice tours, most meals and two evening programs with guest speakers.”
Joining the trip will also enroll members in the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project.
“We hope that you will join us in the future, as we continue to meet, educate, reflect and build a more inclusive and equitable Alexandria,” the website said.
Trips with independent travel are $485 or $585 to join on the chartered bus. Those interested in supporting the trip can donate online.
A new grant-funded program is coming to Alexandria this fall to help parents talk to children about issues around race and privilege.
The program, called Conversations About Race & Belonging, is run through a local organization called Open Horizon and is launching in Alexandria this fall.
“This program invites parents of K-12 students in Alexandria’s public and independent schools to learn skills to engage in meaningful conversations that often feel challenging, awkward and uncomfortable, using race, identity, and privilege as a focusing lens,” the release said. “We also are promoting this program to parents who are professional librarians, counselors, coaches, and building staff within those Alexandria systems that serve children, regardless of where their children go to school.”
The release said part of the goal is to engage networks, like neighbors or members of social groups, and the city is encouraging those groups to attend together to support one another.
The program page said a nominal fee of $25 is asked but not required. The next round of applications is scheduled to close on July 31.
“We are registering participants, but are limited to 30 seats, so we invite you to please share this opportunity with any Alexandria parents who might be interested, either for themselves or for other parents in their social, school, neighborhood or faith groups,” the release said. Details about the program, as well as the registration link, can be found online at this Parents Program info sheet.”
As Alexandria prepares to launch its new West End plans, some in city leadership are saying the city should do more to take stock of how systemic racism and discrimination has affected housing city-wide.
At a Planning Commission meeting last night, city staff proposed the start of an update to a 1992 plan that outlines land use in the city’s West End.
“We expect that this will be more of a high-level plan, sort of a 1992 plan brought up to 2022 standards,” said Carrie Beach, Division Chief for Neighborhood Planning and Community Development. “We think this is a really high priority for the city. It actually represents a pretty large area: it’s about 1,300 acres, about 17% of the city population. It’s important to look at this area comprehensively.”
A staff report on the need for an update said the 1992 report should adapt to reflect changes in development through the area like plans for Southern Towers the Newport Village plans. As the city leadership starts to reconsider land use in the West End, some on the Planning Commission said the city should consider doing more up-front to look at the impact of discriminatory zoning and how changes in land use policy can start to counteract that.
“I think too few people in this community really fully realize the government-mandated process of discrimination against minority groups drastically affected the housing and settlement patterns across the United States,” said Planning Commissioner David Brown. “I simply do not know how significant that impact was in Alexandria because we haven’t unearthed our past in a systematic fashion.”
Brown said he and Planning Commissioner Melissa McMahon spoke to city leaders last fall about putting together a full study of the impacts of discriminatory zoning but have made little headway since.
“I don’t know whether anyone is really seriously considering using some Covid money or whatever might be around to hire some experts to help us learn about our own community in this area,” Brown said.
Brown found some support from city staff and on the Commission.
“It absolutely plays into thinking about the future,” Beach said. “We agree.”
“I want to concur with the fact that the overall organization and priorities are imminently supportable,” said Planning Commissioner Stephen Koenig. “I want to specifically and strongly reinforce the observations that Commissioner Brown made with his efforts with Commissioner McMahon to seriously and systematically examine aspects of our long-term history and decipher them and distill from them to seriously and meaningfully inform what we plan for the future.”
During the public discussion, one of the two speakers connected changes in land use with efforts to eliminate single-family zoning, something that’s gotten a tepid response from city leadership in the past.
“We need to take a hard look at systemic land-use policies,” said Luca Gattoni-Celli, founder of a group called YIMBYs of NoVA. “In general I want to make the point that we will really have to reform and eliminate single-family zoning and related policies such as setbacks and floor area ratio requirements, otherwise the city is not going to be able to add the housing that it needs and the diverse housing forms that new types of families and households want to address our region’s underlying housing shortage and fix the crippling affordability crisis that we all deal with.”
Currently, the city uses those floor area ratio requirements as leverage for getting more affordable housing units from developers.
Another concern raised at the Planning Commission was conflicts between city plans and those more focused on specific localities.
“We routinely encounter issues with citywide plans having established adopted policy goals and objectives not implemented in small area plans,” said McMahon, “even when small area plans come subsequent to the city plans.”
Karl Moritz, Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of Alexandria, said city planning has been moving more towards “how to implement citywide policy on a smaller scale” rather than using local plans to rewrite city-wide policy.
“I was remembering the Eisenhower West plan… one of the early things we did in this plan was stipulate citywide policy,” Moritz said. “The focus of the plan was not relitigating citywide policy but figuring out how to apply it in Eisenhower West. I do think that’s sometimes easier said than done and there are issues that come up through the public engagement process that demand an answer and solution we have not yet thought of. But overall, I believe our future is to be more oriented toward establishing city-wide policy.”
Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings is making a case for critical race theory (CRT) and abolishing policing practices, although not within the school system he manages.
In an opinion piece published by EducationWeek on April 6 (Wednesday), Hutchings said that school systems need to employ six steps if they want to “embrace” building an anti-racist school or school system. In “The Anti-Racist Counternarrative Public Education Needs Now: Six steps for escaping the trap of attacks on ‘critical race theory’“, Hutchings wrote that most public school educators never heard of the term before it became politicized during the 2020 election cycle.
“It has become so extreme that many states are banning books, rescinding policies, and dismantling curriculum,” Hutchings wrote. “School systems are faced with political strategies to dismantle equitable practices and policies and take our public educational systems back to before the civil rights era if we do not pay attention and react methodically, strategically, and unapologetically.”
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, heavily campaigned against critical race theory, which is an increased study into racism and its effects on society. ACPS has not taken an official stance on CRT, and said that Hutchings’ comments do not reflect the opinion of the school system.
“This is an opinion piece from a national perspective and it speaks for itself,” ACPS School and Community Relations Chief Julia Burgos told ALXnow.
The op-ed lists six “scalable” recommendations, which Hutchings wrote are “imperative for educators to embrace.” The recommendations are:
- Know our history
- Commit to racial equity
- Dismantle instraschool segregation
- Abolish policing practices in schools
- Prioritize strategic thinking and planning
- Demonstrate courage and boldness
Hutchings wrote that ACPS works closely with police to keep schools safe, and that a half hour of “social-emotional learning time” has been incorporated into the school division.
“Policing is a controversial national discussion, and schools are not immune to this controversy,” Hutchings wrote. “Discipline for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students has mirrored some policing practices that have contributed to the prison pipeline for decades. From zero-tolerance policies to arrests in schools for disciplinary infractions, U.S. public schools have harmed BIPOC students by implementing disciplinary policies derived from policing. A focus on the social and emotional needs of students, including restorative practices, instead of suspension and expulsion practices, is key to abolishing policing in schools.”
Policing in schools has been a controversial subject in Alexandria, after the City Council went against Hutchings’ recommendation and defunded school resource officers. Funding for the $800,000 SRO program was diverted toward mental and behavioral health resources for ACPS, but after a marked increase in violent events going into the 2021-2022 school year, Hutchings’ successfully pleaded with City Council for their reinstatement.
Many of the points are included in Hutchings’ recently released book, which he wrote with Georgetown University professor Douglas Reed. The first chapter of “Getting Into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Anti-racist School System” is devoted to the T.C. Williams High School name change to Alexandria City High School, which was accomplished through a lengthy community process. The book has eight chapters on various subjects, including “Know Your History to Rewrite Your Future”, “Commit to Racial Equity”, “Make School Discipline Different From Policing” and “Choose Good Trouble: Be a Bold and Courageous Antiracist School Leader.”
Sudshare app-based laundry service launches in Alexandria — “Sudshare has launched in Alexandria to connect people who hate washing clothes (or don’t have time to do it) with people who are willing to do it for you.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
Alexandria gets another new mural — “The newest Alexandria mural was unveiled on Veterans Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.” [Zebra]
Virginia Tech closes Alexandria student housing — “On Nov. 1, university leadership decided against the continued operation of The Gallery, student housing located in Alexandria, Virginia…” [Collegiate Times]
Lasting effects of segregation in NoVA detailed in new report — “A new report tells the history of exclusion and segregation in Northern Virginia and how the Black community has paid a terrible price.” [Patch]