By Michael Ford, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
Last week began with the 44th Martin Luther King Day, a day set aside to remember the man, the mission and the history. Sometimes history is ignored or set aside because it has become inconvenient. That is what is happening right now in the Parker-Gray neighborhood.
Ramsey Homes is slated to be torn down in favor of two apartment buildings, destroying an architectural milestone and erasing more green space. Ramsey Homes was designed by local architect Delos Smith, one of the original members of the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, who also did work on the U.S. Capitol. Ramsey Homes was built in the fast disappearing Prairie style and housed African-American defense workers and African-American junior officers during World War II.
The housing of the African-American junior officers marked one milestone on the path to the U.S. Army’s desegregation in 1948. Even more interesting is the fact that the names of those defense workers that lived at Ramsey Homes during World War II were concealed from census data for security reasons, which strongly suggests that such workers were involved in sensitive war work.
As records become declassified, who is to say what unknown hero’s story will be revealed? But by that time, Ramsey Homes will be gone. Ramsey Homes have been left in a state of neglect by the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which now claims it is too expensive to rehabilitate, despite the fact that they spent $4.8 million on their own headquarters.
The city Department of Planning and Zoning has decided to let them have carte blanche in tearing it down, in searing contrast to how they regulate the homes of private citizens in the historic district. The sad part is that Ramsey Homes are history, a monument to the role of Alexandria’s African-American community in the war effort and the larger story of the Parker-Gray neighborhood. But ARHA claims that they can cram more people into a more disposable building for a greater profit, and they are being allowed to do it.
I’m aware there are those who say that Ramsey Homes are too modest to merit their preservation, but we’ve seen the destruction that results when one group does not value the story or the culture of others across the Middle East. ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have destroyed countless buildings and sites because they did not value the history that those structures represented. Ramsey Homes tell an important chapter in the history of Parker-Gray neighborhood and an important chapter in the history of the American soldier. Its destruction will eradicate history and make Alexandria even more of a cause of global warming by contributing to the heat island effect. If you have an opinion about this, I would share it with city council. Thank you.