Our View: The many facets of equity

Our View: The many facets of equity
Stadium lights at Witter Recreational Fields off of Duke Street. (Photo Credit: Missy Schrott)

The Alexandria School Board’s unanimous vote on July 10 to set in motion a process for removing the name of T.C. Williams from the high school and replacing it with a more appropriate moniker was a welcome, though overdue, action.

It has seemed obvious to us and many others for years that the name T.C. Williams should be removed from Alexandria’s only high school.

Though Williams’ segregationist actions as Alexandria superintendent were known, the series of stories that Jim McElhatton wrote in the Alexandria Times in 2018 and 2019 about the integration of Alexandria’s public schools showed beyond doubt that Williams’ role in fighting integration was deliberate and demeaning to Black students and their families.

The issue of equity is now at the forefront in America, due to the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer. As a result, change that seemed glacial in pace – if it happened at all – is now beginning to occur.

But here’s the problem: We can’t selectively pursue equity.

Either we want true equity in Alexandria, particularly for the city’s long-suffering Black community, or we want a few token, trophy actions that generate applause and provide cover for otherwise conducting business as usual.

It is hypocritical to rush to condemn the long-dead T.C. Williams and yank his name from the high school, like judges on “The Gong Show” elbowing each other to insult a contestant, while perpetuating unfair treatment of Blacks adjacent to the school property.

As this week’s My View column by 94-year-old Arminta Wood clearly shows, an entire community of Black residents have repeatedly been treated unjustly by the City of Alexandria – and, sadly, that mistreatment continues today.

Wood, her family and neighbors were displaced from their homes in the early 1960s to make room for T.C. Williams High School – even though Alexandria was far less developed then than today and the school could have been built elsewhere.

City officials added insult to injury by “justifying” the land grab by saying roads and other infrastructure in the neighborhood were inadequate – services that the city itself had neglected to provide. Both of these actions – denying Black Alexandrians equal services and then unfairly seizing their land – are the very definition of racism.

Wood, other displaced residents and their relatives claim that their families were paid well below market value for their homes, and nothing for their land. And this community of Black Alexandrians is adamant that city leaders promised that the football stadium at the new high school – which literally abuts their property – would never have stadium lighting.

This verbal promise to never light the football stadium, which is widely believed to have happened, was reiterated in writing in the 2004 DSUP for the rebuild of T.C. Williams on the same site.

So now, these same Black neighbors, whose mistreatment by the city stretches back at least 60 years, are being asked to overlook the pledge and written promise. They are being told to accept the jeopardization of not just their financial security but also their quality of life, when these fields are lit and used most nights of the week.

Haven’t we asked enough of this one community? Haven’t these Black Alexandrians and their families suffered enough?

Changing the words that adorn our high school is long overdue. But the real pursuit of equity involves more than words.

The City of Alexandria needs to formally acknowledge that the Woods neighborhood residents were mistreated when T.C. Williams High School was built. Our city leaders need to admit that they’re still mistreating these same Black residents today in their dogged pursuit to add lights to Parker-Gray Stadium.

It’s time for ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D, the school board and city council members to demonstrate that their stated desire for equity in Alexandria is more than just words. Prove it by dropping the effort to light Parker-Gray Stadium at T.C. Williams High School.