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Wilma Jones Killgo is a fourth-generation resident of the Halls Hill community in Arlington. Wilma’s wide-ranging career accomplishments include speaking engagements, authoring three books and becoming a top-performing director in corporate IT sales. Throughout her life, Wilma has been a consistent community activist. She is currently serving her fourth term as president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association. We spoke with Wilma to learn more about the community she calls “more than a neighborhood” and her experiences growing up in Arlington.
ACVS: Tell me a little bit about growing up in the Halls Hill (High View) Park community?
WJK: I was born in 1959, right after my brother Michael was one of the four kids who desegregated schools in Arlington, Virginia. My mother and father were born and raised in the Halls Hill neighborhood and lived here their entire lives (95 years). Both sets of my grandparents came to the neighborhood in the 1900s. I am a product of a segregated neighborhood. When my parents were young, there was only one way in and one way out of the neighborhood. The institutional racism in Arlington County was extremely strong. During this time, segregation walls were going up and Black people weren’t allowed to get services at Arlington Hospital [today’s Virginia Hospital Center]. Even when I was a child, I remember people being called the N-word. Halls Hill was an insular place and most of the kids in the neighborhood grew up very happy, safe, and loved. It is a very special place, that’s why I call it “more than a neighborhood.”
ACVS: What would you say is unique about Halls Hill?
WJK: I think it was unique because many of the residents were second and third generation. Some of the people I grew up with had family who were descendants of enslaved people from Arlington. I’m descended from enslaved people as well, but my ancestors were from Norfolk and Fauquier Counties. Because of Freedman’s Village, there are a lot of people in Halls Hill that have very deep roots. Additionally, when I was growing up, almost 60% of Black people in Arlington owned their homes. We were all very invested in our neighborhood. I knew everyone growing up and they all knew me and my family. If you got in trouble, someone would call and tell your parents before you got home. It was a very close-knit community.
ACVS: Could you talk more about the close-knit nature of the neighborhood?
WJK: There were five institutions that kept everyone connected: The two primary churches were Calloway United Methodist Church and Mount Salvation Baptist Church; the John M. Langston Citizens Association, which was started in the 1930s to advocate for the neighborhood to the County; Langston Elementary School, unfortunately a segregated school, but knitted the whole community together (It was a very special place and all four students, including my brother, who integrated schools were graduates of Langston); and Fire Station 8. which was the first fire station staffed by Black people below the Mason-Dixon Line, is still operational today. The people, having deep roots in the community, along with these institutions, helped people be of the same mind. When there were efforts to desegregate schools, juries and jobs, the community of Halls Hill worked together. This was also true of other Black neighborhoods like Green Valley and Johnson’s Hill (Arlington View); they were activist neighborhoods.
ACVS: What inspired you to write your book, “My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood”?
WJK: My parents were a treasure trove of history. There were several projects with interviews and videos, but nothing that told the entire story. The main reason that I wrote the book was to save this history for my nieces, nephews and children. I started working on the book in 2011 and then life happened. When my dad passed away in 2014, I became re-engaged and started doing more interviews with my mom. When my mom passed away in 2017, I made a promise to myself that I would get the book out within the year and it came out in October 2018. I wrote the book to save the history for my family, but the more that I worked on it, the more it became clear that there was interest.
ACVS: Can you tell me about your experiences as president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association and how you became involved?
WJK: My parents were involved in the citizens association as I was growing up, in addition to working two jobs. My mom would have us [me and my siblings] pass out flyers, and she was always involved in events and committees. I became involved with the Citizens Association 20 years ago when I was unhappy with a business that’s located near my house. The County told me that the first step was the Citizens Association. I went to the next meeting and asked if the association would support my effort and they agreed. After the community found out how hard I worked, they asked me to be on the executive committee. I became president for a few years in the 1990s. I moved to Prince George’s County for eight years and then returned to Arlington in 2011. When I returned, the Citizens Association asked me to join again. I served on various committees up until 2018 when I became president. I am now serving my fourth term (second consecutive) as president. I’ve always been the kind of person to do what needs to be done to impact change.
ACVS: Could you talk more about the civic activism of Hall’s Hill and the other African American communities in Arlington?
WJK: My parents were civically active, my elder sister was at the March on Washington (1963). The Black communities in Arlington have always been very politically and civically active because that’s the only way they could get anything. The Citizens Association in Halls Hill was started because the adjacent white neighborhoods were getting water and sewer and people in Halls Hill couldn’t. One of the reasons that the association was started was to advocate for the same services that were given to white communities.
ACVS: For a potential visitor who knows nothing about Arlington, could you explain the history of this community?
WJK: The three main Black communities in Arlington, Hall’s Hill, Johnson’s Hill and Green Valley, are a part of the reason Arlington is the progressive, diverse and welcoming place that it is today. In the past, there were several people in Arlington who did everything they could to keep Black people and poor people down. It’s important to acknowledge that Black people worked within the systems because this was their community too. I’m the fourth generation of my family in the neighborhood, that’s the kind of stability that embodies the Halls Hill community. “The Arlington Way” is about civic activism and the community being involved in decisions. The Halls Hill community said, “We are a part of Arlington too.” The Halls Hill neighborhood, in terms of history, is rich. [For example], the four kids who integrated schools. Black people migrated here right after they became free; [they were] previously enslaved people who were working in plantations without an education. They started churches, petitioned the County government to start a school, and created social clubs. Many of these organizations (and events) are still active today.
ACVS: If you were a visitor, where would you visit?
WJK: I would say, I’d like to visit Fire Station 8 which was started by a group of Black men because the white Fire Station would not serve our community. The school and neighborhood started in 1948 where a community fought for integration in Arlington. And they continued to fight for the completion of integration until 1971. These were the kinds of things that were the bedrock of these communities. There is an African American walking tour that denotes six sites of interest which includes Fire Station 8 and the Langston School. Even though there were many things that were done to discourage and dissuade these communities from having their place in Arlington, they continued to fight and were successful in many areas.