By Tom Fulton, Former chairman, Ad hoc committee on Fort Ward
To most Alexandrians, Fort Ward Park represents an opportunity to jog, take a stroll, walk the dog, or simply enjoy a rural setting in an urban environment. For some Alexandrians however, Fort Ward Park represents much more. Since 2010 when neighbors became alarmed at how the city was mismanaging the park — with instances of city vehicles parked on or near marked and unmarked African-American graves — the City, led by citizens, began the important task of finding, marking and preserving the graves and other sites that lie within Fort Ward Park. This effort led to the development of a master plan for Fort Ward, the first for the city’s many parks.
After four years of citizen-led effort, the proposed master plan is headed to city council for final consideration. What happens after that is important for everyone in our city. Fort Ward was created in the 1960s to help Alexandria celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. As a result of that early effort by local residents, Alexandrians own and preserve the very best example of Abraham Lincoln’s forts that were built to protect Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.
The city now stands at a similar watershed moment. Many of the descendents of the African-American families who lived at Fort Ward after the Civil War now live nearby in the Woods Avenue community near T.C. Williams High School. Their ancestors who often found employment at the Virginia Theological Seminary and High School settled at the Fort. To say that these descendents are anxious to better understand the role their ancestors played in building Alexandria and its institutions is an understatement. Both descendents and area residents are anxious that the city complete the task of finding, marking and interpreting the graves of early residents of Fort Ward Park — especially interpretation — within its budget limits. Proper interpretation enables a richer understanding of the important role those who lived at Fort Ward played in the life of this city.
This council has a significant opportunity to do the right thing, and giving this important story the interpretation it deserves will benefit all of us who call Alexandria home.