Civil Rights and Historic Preservation: A Case Study from Northern Virginia

The civil rights debates of the 1960s and 1970s influence city planning in Alexandria, Virginia to this day.

December 23, 2020, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Old Town Alexandra

King Street in Old Town Alexandria. | Stephen B. Goodwin / Shutterstock

Vernon Miles shares news of a new book that tells the history of civil rights and historic preservation Alexandria, Virginia, and how these two goals came into conflict in the development of the county's old town historic district since the 1970.

Local historic preservation consultant John Sprinkle presented excerpts from a forthcoming book to the Alexandria Board of Architectural Review, highlighting the central role of historic preservation in debates about development and displacement over the years. The narrative shared by Sprinkle is one of a dual process of desegregation and displacement: As Alexandria expanded Old Town in the 1970s, Black residents displaced by higher property taxes moved into "formerly all-white working class communities in Del Ray and Arlandria."

Violent conflicts that took place in the area had a "profound impact" on planning in Arlington, according to Sprinkle. "The historic preservation at the time started to shift toward neighborhood conservation. The city pursued grants from National Endowment for the Humanities that focused on conservation as part of an experiment designed to address forecasted displacement of African Americans in the north-western quadrant,” writes Miles.

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