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Arlington Spotlights: Dr. Alfred Taylor

Dr. Alfred Taylor was born and raised in Arlington, Virginia. Through the years, he has been active in the Arlington community. From President of the Green Valley Civic Association to Chairman of the Deacon’s Ministry at the Macedonia Baptist Church. Since retiring, Dr. Taylor has written two books. "Bridge Builders of Nauck/Green Valley: Past and Present” details the stories of over 100 Arlingtonians. "What an Amazing Journey,” is his autobiography. Dr. Taylor has another book coming soon. It promises to document his ancestors’ military contributions. We spoke to Dr. Taylor by phone to learn more about the Green Valley community and Arlington’s history.

ACVS: Tell me a little bit about your family’s story in the Washington, D.C., and Arlington area.

AT: My parents were both born in the Foggy Bottom section of Georgetown. Their parents moved to Arlington in the early 1900s to establish homes during the time the land was opening up to African Americans. First, let me explain how my parents got into the Georgetown area. My third great-grandmother, Melinda Hawkins, and my second great-grandmother, Martha Hawkins, were freed slaves in Georgetown on May 13, 1862 by the owner of the oldest house still lived in on the Georgetown waterfront “The Brickyard Hill House,” whose owner at that time was Peter Von Essen.. This was the year before the Emancipation Proclamation. My paternal grandfather purchased land in Arlington in 1913 from John D. Nauck. 

ACVS: Could you tell me more about your story growing up in the Green Valley community?

AT: I was born in Green Valley on July 28, 1934. I was one of the first patients of Dr. Roland Bruner, who was a physician in the Green Valley neighborhood for over 40 years. [Dr. Roland Bruner’s private practice assisted African American women in delivering their children at home in Arlington instead of having to travel to Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.] I attended school in Arlington until the third grade and then my parents transferred me to the Washington, D.C. Public Schools System.

ACVS: Could you talk more about your experiences in the school systems at that time?

AT: During that time, in the 1940s, the Washington, D.C., schools had a reputation for being among the top public school systems in the United States. I went to Stevens Elementary School. [the school that President Jimmy Carter’s daughter also attended]. After graduating from Stevens, I went to Francis Junior High School and then onto Armstrong Technical High School. At Francis I was introduced to printing and fell in love with it. I decided to make it my career. The drawing attraction to D.C. schools was it provided more choices with its five high schools, each with a different emphasis, i.e., college preparatory, Technical, business, boys vocational and girls vocational. I graduated in 1952 which was two years before Brown v. Board of Education.

ACVS: What was it like working in the printing industry?

AT: My wife and I accumulated enough to co-own two printing establishments, Our Printers in Washington, D.C., and Quality Printers in Capitol Heights, Maryland. I also continued to work in other printing establishments during that period. In 1960, I was approved and hired for a position as a journeyman linotype operator at the United States Government Printing Office. At the time of my going into the Government Printing Office, the number of African American journeyman operators could be counted on one hand. When I left, I was one of the highest-ranking African Americans in the production department. I was hired by the Washington Technical Institute (now the University of the District of Columbia) in 1969 to further develop their printing and publishing program. 

ACVS: Were you still active in the Green Valley community while living and working in Washington, D.C.?

AT: Although we lived in Washington, we continued to be active in Arlington’s civic and social life. Our church was the Macedonia Baptist Church, which was started in 1908 in my wife’s grandparents’ living room. Green Valley, of course, is one of Arlington’s oldest African American communities.

ACVS: What can you tell me about the history of this neighborhood?

AT: Green Valley was always an enterprising part of the County. It was one of Arlington’s oldest African American communities, its history dating back to 1844. Arlington was not the Deep South, but it was still the South and it remained segregated during this time. We had segregated schools and facilities and there were certain places we could not go. The residents in Green Valley started to develop their own enterprises and businesses as a result of segregation. In most instances, the resident’s pooled their limited resources to provide opportunities denied to their residents.

ACVS: Could you give some examples?

AT: The Friendly Cab Company was started by Ralph Collins and is still operated by his family. The Arlington Hospital [Virginia Hospital Center] was not welcoming to African Americans for medical care. Because of that, the Friendly Cab Company was started to ferry African Americans back and forth to Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. since most people did not own automobiles at that time. The Green Valley Pharmacy was started in 1952 by Leonard Muse, better known as Doc Muse. He established the first facility in Arlington County with a counter where we as African Americans could sit down and have fountain sodas and milkshakes. George Moore established the first record store and TV repair shop and James E. Chinn established the first funeral home. Many other entities, e.g., barber shops, beauty shops, restaurants, home repairs, shoe shop, entertainment complex, etc. Green Valley was truly a Village. Everyone knew each other and had the extended courtesy of raising or correcting each other’s children.

ACVS: And what would you say inspired you to write “Bridge Builders?”

AT: After I retired, I started as a substitute teacher at Drew Elementary School in Arlington. Every Black History Month, the students would be given the same assignments. Write an essay on Martin Luther King, Jr.; Rosa Parks; Harriet Tubman, etc. – the national figures. I would say, we have people in our own community who have made local and national contributions they should know. How do they learn about them? My father, put in 44 years of service with Arlington County Government and would tell me stories in the fashion of the old West African Griots of who did what and who did that. I decided to call together a group to discuss ways to establish a community resource center that would feature stories and artifacts of local Arlington contributors. After hearing my proposal, David Bearinger from the Virginia Virginia Foundation for the Humanities said to me, "Taylor, have you thought about writing a book?"  He encouraged me to apply for a grant to assist me, and if I could develop a draft manuscript in three months, he would present it for funding.

ACVS: Tell me more about your book, “Bridge Builders.”

AT: Drawing on the stories that my father told me, I went to the families to have them tell their or their relative’s stories. I ended with over 100 stories to put in my first book, which I titled appropriately, “Bridge Builders of Nauck/Green Valley.” I created my book, with the hopes that during Black History Month the teachers would allow the students to study local Green Valley families and their contributions. Green Valley which had been referred to as Nauck, recently changed its name back to Green Valley.

ACVS: Could you talk about the movement to change the name back?

AT: The neighborhood was always known or referred to as Green Valley by its residents.. Most of the contributors in my book made them while calling Green Valley home. That’s what started me to want to change the name back to Green Valley. This was when people had started the movement of renaming places of people who had caused harm to African Americans. When we discovered that John D. Nauck [whom Green Valley had been renamed for] was a former Confederate soldier, the push began. John D. Nauck had purchased land in Arlington to develop and sell, and was not known to have made any meaningful contribution to better the quality of life for residents of the community.

ACVS: What makes Green Valley unique? What can you tell me about the community’s commitment to the neighborhood and each other?

AT: We always considered the community to be very stable because we are anchored on four sides by our churches, who were the center of its activities. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, Lomax AME Zion Church and the Macedonia Baptist Church were these anchors. In my youth, the churches were the center focus of the community. They tried to develop and provide all the entertainment and amenities that the white kids had.

They welcomed everyone into their churches regardless of their race. Before 1949, the African American kids in Green Valley had no organized recreational facilities. Father Kanda of Our Lady Queen of Peace built an outdoor court for neighborhood kids and made portable basketball courts for indoor use. He organized a basketball team and I became one of the non-Catholics on the team. Other than that, we had baseball and football teams and the mothers in the community would sell dinners to afford us uniforms.

ACVS: What is something about Arlington’s history or character that you think gets overlooked?

AT: There are unknown stories that my father told me. There were four major African American communities whose names were changed i.e. Hall’s Hill [Highview Park]; Johnson's Hill [Arlington View]; Butler-Holmes/Hatfield [Penrose]; and Green Valley [Nauck]. No one will commit to telling why these community designations were changed in the 70s, although it is believed that it was an effort of rebranding to erase past history perceptions. There was a great story that I collaborated on with Dr. Nancy Perry about the eminent domain process that displaced 900 families in East Arlington, many without any place to relocate to. As a result, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt interceded by getting WWII surplus trailers to house the families. You must understand the countless untold stories to understand what Arlington was. [The stories that I have mentioned] are just the tip of the iceberg.

ACVS: What is something about Green Valley that you would want visitors to know?

AT: Green Valley was always open to planned change and welcoming to all ethnicities. At one time, Green Valley was 97% African American with 65% owning their own homes. By the 2010 census, Green Valley was one of Arlington’s most diverse communities. We welcome and embrace change but do not want to lose the community spirit of the “Village Concept” that is Green Valley’s strength.