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Scott Taylor is a third generation Arlingtonian, raised in the historic Halls Hill neighborhood. In addition to a master’s degree in journalism, Scott is a nationally and internationally recognized musician. He continues to be active in the Arlington community through the African American Leadership Council and many other organizations. Scott participated in the committee for renaming Stratford Middle School to Dorothy Hamm Middle School and the committee that proposed naming a park after Selina Gray (a former Arlington enslaved person). Scott is currently the president of the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington. We spoke with Scott about his family heritage in Arlington and his experiences as president of the Black Heritage Museum.
ACVS: Let’s start with your family heritage in the area (Arlington and Washington, D.C.)
ST: My family moved to Arlington in the late 1930s, I believe 1937. My paternal grandmother was a Holms, an African American family that moved to the Washington, D.C., area in the late 1800s. My grandmother married a much older gentleman whose name was James Monroe Taylor from Petersburg, Virginia. He acquired a lot of property, mostly in Baltimore, but they also owned a property in Washington, D.C. They decided to move to Arlington; that property is still in my family today. The house that is there today is a second house because the first one burned down. When my paternal grandfather died, my grandmother remarried a man named Crawford. They opened a business on Langston Boulevard, the Dewdrop Inn. My step-grandfather was a well-known jack of all trades. He was a builder, contractor, and caterer.
ACVS: Could you tell me about your parents?
ST: My parents met in the Halls Hill neighborhood in Arlington. My father is 85 years old now and is very well known in that neighborhood. In 1955, my mom moved from Lexington, Virginia, to Arlington and she met my dad. We lived in three residences, first with my mom’s family, on 19th Street (between 19th Street and George Mason Drive). Even though it was only one block from Arlington Hospital [today’s Virginia Hospital Center], my mom wasn’t allowed to have her children there because of the Jim Crow laws. Therefore, the talented midwives delivered many of the children in Halls Hill. I was born in Freedman’s Hospital; only my youngest sister was born there [Virginia Hospital Center].
ACVS: Could you talk a little bit about your childhood in Halls Hill?
ST: It was more of a village than a neighborhood. There was a wall that surrounded us, and we depended on each other for a lot of things. Within the neighborhood, there was a gentleman who could mend your shoes and a seamstress who gave voice lessons. Even our schoolteachers lived in our community. Fred Wilson, the first Black person to be on the school board, lived right around the corner. I knew 99% of the people, and I knew where everyone lived in Halls Hill. I don’t know any other neighborhood where everybody knew each other.
ACVS: Could you explain more about how it was more of a village than a neighborhood?
ST: I was talking to a friend reminiscing recently about Halls Hill. I was saying that if an ambulance or the fire department came, the whole neighborhood would be out there. I get choked up thinking about it: when I got hit by a car, there was a sea of people asking if I was okay. In the summertime, everybody was on their porch and you had to speak. If you didn’t, someone would call your parents. When I was a teenager, I was parked in front of my dad’s house with a girl. Somebody called my dad to see what was going on, and he came out in a t-shirt and boxers. You couldn’t do much as a teenager. There were certain people that you could go to if you had a problem. I thank God for all the ones that were mentors to us: Reverend Brown and his wife, Saundra Green, Wilma Jones Killgo’s parents.
ACVS: So, you grew up in Arlington, Virginia have you lived around the D.C. area your entire life?
ST: No, I’ve lived in a lot of places. To me, Halls Hill was a small town and my dream was always to go to California and attend UCLA. I wanted to be a singer and I am one today. As I got older, I knew I wanted to come back. I realized I needed to stay close; my parents were getting older and my dad was still living in Halls Hill. I left, but I never really left. Even when I moved away, I was still a member of my church. Now I currently run the museum and I teach in Arlington. Every year, everyone comes back for a reunion called the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving morning.
ACVS: How long have you been with the Black Heritage Museum? Could you tell me about your experiences as President?
ST: The Black Heritage Museum has been in existence since 1998, and I became president in 2016. It was started by Evelyn Syphax (of the Syphax family). For all those years, it was an online museum. I was invited to attend some meetings and before I knew it, I was on the board. I was only on the board for two weeks before became vice-chairman. From my Halls Hill upbringing, we were always taught to be the best at everything. After researching what the founders wanted, I realized they wanted a physical museum. The current president stepped down and I became the president. I began to remodel and collect artifacts. In fact, we are expecting some items from Roberta Flack soon. We have a very nice collection, but we are always searching for more. We received an NAACP award a few years ago, and I’m very proud of what we’ve done. Through my fundraising efforts, we received a $100,000 grant from Amazon to go towards preserving history and education.
ACVS: What else are you working on?
ST: Black History Month is very important for us. I recently wrote a children’s book that will be released after the pandemic. Last week I had a spot on the local news, WDVM. We’re also creating a map for tourists that includes African American history. From Green Valley and Columbia Pike to Freedman’s Village and Halls Hill. We’re also hoping to begin a bus tour program next year. When Wilma’s book was released, we held a celebration and book signing event at the museum. To me, it’s important to help people tell their stories.
ACVS: What would you want a visitor to know about Arlington?
ST: What I would want people to know is that Black people worked hard here. A change is necessary because when the average person comes to Arlington, they wouldn’t know Black people ever existed here. It’s good to tell the history and it’s wonderful to share these stories.
ACVS: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
ST: I still have family in Arlington, so I’m very much connected here. We continue to be involved in activism. I was part of the Black Lives Matter march that started here in Arlington [from the Courthouse neighborhood]. I was honored to speak beside Joan Mulholland. The graveyard at Mount Salvation Baptist Church recently received historical preservation status. There are people buried in that graveyard that were enslaved in Arlington. I’m proud that it’s my church. I’m working on a documentary about the lunch counter sit-ins on Langston Boulevard [Arlington Lunch Counter Sit-Ins]. We currently have an exhibit featuring the sit-ins at the museum.