Category Archives: Metropolis of the Month

Sanctuary and the City

Editor’s note: In anticipation of next’s month’s #OAH2019/#OAH19 in Philadelphia, the March Metro of the Month is the City of Brotherly love. To get more info about the conference click over to the organization’s website, where you can also download the OAH’s program for the event.

By Domenic Vitiello

In the age of President Donald Trump, most Americans know what a “sanctuary city” is. It goes something like this:

RESOLVED: That no agent or agency, including the Philadelphia Police Department and its members, shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of the citizenship or residency status of any person unless such inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal regulation or court decision…[1]

 Since debates about illegal immigration blew up in 2006, as Congress has failed to pass immigration reform, and especially since Trump’s election in 2016, more and more cities have refused to cooperate in detention and deportation of people in the country illegally. But this is only one part of what it means to be a sanctuary city. And today is just the latest era in a long history of sanctuary cities in the United States, in which Philadelphia has featured prominently.

The sanctuary city declarations and policies of today read much like those of the 1980s, when the administration of President Ronald Reagan refused to grant asylum to Guatemalans and Salvadorans fleeing civil wars and murder by militaries trained and funded by the U.S. In response, activists around the country and in Mexico established the Sanctuary Movement to harbor people they called “refugees,” even as the federal government persisted in labelling them “illegal economic immigrants.” They helped people cross the border and sheltered select individuals and families in churches, synagogues, and meetinghouses from New England to the West Coast. They lobbied politicians in Washington to stop supporting wars, and the terror they wrought, in Central America, and to change asylum policy. In 1985 and ‘86, they gained national media attention as the federal government put some of the movement’s founders on trial for trafficking Central Americans across the border near Tucson, Arizona. They used this moment to push city and state governments to establish sanctuary policies.

The quote above comes from a draft resolution written for the City Council of Philadelphia in the winter of 1986 by activists in the West Philly-based Central America Organizing Project, as well as the local chapters of the national Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador (CISPES), Democratic Socialists of America, and National Lawyers’ Guild. “In response to our national government’s policy of deporting Central American refugees and harassing their supporters,” they wrote to other sanctuary activists in Philadelphia, “a number of cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Cambridge, Mass., Chicago, Seattle, and Ithaca have declared themselves to be Cities of Refuge or Sanctuary Cities.”[2] So did other centers of the American Left, including New York City; Burlington, Vermont (mayor: Bernard Sanders); Ann Arbor, Michigan; Takoma Park, Maryland; and the states of New Mexico and Wisconsin.[3] Los Angeles, home to the largest number of Central Americans in the country, some 300,000 people, established this era’s first sanctuary city policy in 1979, even before the Sanctuary Movement arose.


In their resolution, the Philadelphia activists recognized a deeper history of sanctuary, casting it as an original purpose of the city and nation:

WHEREAS: Both the United States and the City of Philadelphia have for centuries served as a haven for refugees of religious and political persecution from all parts of the world, and much of the historical and moral tradition of our nation is rooted in the provision of sanctuary to persecuted peoples.[4]

Founded by Quakers, this was “the city to which religious dissidents of all kinds could come during the colonial era,” and “a major link in the Underground Railroad,” the activists stressed in another outreach letter. They equated sanctuary city protections with certain antebellum cities and states’ refusal to return escaped slaves to the South in compliance with the Fugitive Slave Act.[5]

Cities have functioned as sanctuaries for people fleeing persecution since ancient times. Not just a Western tradition, state and religious authorities designated certain cities as sanctuaries in ancient South Asian Indian, Hawaiian, Hebrew, medieval European, and colonial-era Native American societies. In the Bible, Joshua (20:2) proclaims, “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge”; and in Numbers (35:15), Moses declares areas in the Promised Land “shall be a refuge, for the children of Israel, and for the stranger.” As Exodus (21:12-14) explains, ancient sanctuary cities typically sheltered people from retribution for involuntary manslaughter, to prevent blood feuds, or after defeat in battle. The Greeks, Romans, and early Christians shared this tradition, though their sanctuaries were generally temples and churches as opposed to entire cities. In the twentieth century, sanctuary towns in Europe, often organized by Catholic congregations, harbored Jewish refugees from the Spanish Civil War and the Nazis.[6]

As Sanctuary Movement activists explained in the 1980s, “At different times and places, under varied circumstances, the significance of sanctuary has been recovered and taken on new meanings.”[7] In the twenty-first century, “cities of sanctuary” in Britain promote a culture of welcoming for asylum seekers. The European “cities of refuge” project recruits city governments to protect artists and writers persecuted in other societies.

In the United States, the meanings of sanctuary and sanctuary cities transcend the contested forms of protection that local and state governments, their police and prisons, offer to immigrants whom national governments seek to deport. In almost every sanctuary city resolution of the 1980s and today, local governments affirm something to the effect: “That no agent or agency shall condition the provision of City of Philadelphia benefits, opportunities or services on matters related to citizenship or residency status.”[8] Municipal services like schools, health clinics, libraries, business licensing, and more enable immigrants, including people in the country without documentation, to incorporate, survive, and contribute to the life of cities. Indeed, some mayors and city officials, especially in the twenty-first century, justify their sanctuary policies principally in terms of immigrants’ crucial role in urban revitalization.[9]

Yet often government is not the most important provider of sanctuary. The Philadelphia activists alluded to this in their draft resolution:

RESOLVED: That the City Council supports and commends the citizens of Philadelphia who are providing humanitarian assistance to those seeking refuge in our City; and be it further

RESOLVED: That the people of Philadelphia be encouraged to work with the existing sanctuaries to provide the necessary housing, transportation, food, medical aid, legal assistance and friendship that will be needed…[10]

These forms of sanctuary, as humanitarian assistance, usually come from friends and family, neighbors, and civil society – during the Central American crisis of the 1980s, mainly sanctuary congregations and their allies, including groups like Central America Organizing Project. In this broader perspective, sanctuary cities are the places where immigrants, refugees, and their allies help one another rebuild lives and communities.

By 1987, some twenty-four city governments in the U.S. had declared sanctuary.[11] But Philadelphia did not. Activists abandoned their campaign after a few meetings—their draft resolution never arrived in City Hall. Ironically, City Council had already passed resolutions, and would pass more, celebrating the Sanctuary Movement and condemning Congress and the White House for supporting violence and oppression in Central America.[12] However, as Rev. David Funkhauser, founder of the Central America Organizing Project, wrote at the start of the short-lived campaign, “since Philadelphia has very few refugees, there is no need to rush the proposal.”[13] His colleague Anne Ewing explained, “We’ve decided to spend our energies on direct work with refugees” from Guatemala and El Salvador.[14] As in other “direct action” movements, this was more important than anything local government could do. Many sanctuary activists remained ambivalent about the limits of sanctuary city policies, which could not prevent federal detention and deportation, nor employers’ exploitation of Central American refugees.[15]

Philadelphia in the 1980s was a different sort of sanctuary city than Los Angeles with its large Central American population, or Tucson where activists helped people cross the border. Sanctuary activism in the City of Brotherly Love grew largely from a preexisting set of transnational solidarity movements supporting human rights movements in Chile, Panama, and other parts of Latin America. Some were based out of the locally-headquartered American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker institution. Their allies in Guatemala and El Salvador, mostly union and student organizers and indigenous communities, were the prime targets of disappearances, torture, and bombings during those nation’s civil wars. For Central American activists, sanctuary in the U.S. represented a protected space from which to continue working for peace and justice back home.

After the civil wars in El Salvador and then Guatemala ended in the 1990s, North and Central American sanctuary activists assisted people in returning home and rebuilding their towns, livelihoods, and institutions of government. They monitored elections, supported truth and reconciliation processes, and raised funds for community and small enterprise development. Much of this work continues through organizations like the AFSC, CISPES, SHARE Foundation, and Rights Action, and via sister city and church partnerships, including with Philadelphia congregations. In these ways, the work of sanctuary continues as a project of promoting and protecting human rights. One way to understand Philadelphia’s Sanctuary Movement is that it grew out of, and then morphed back into, a set of transnational solidarity movements.

Philadelphia became a sanctuary city in terms of municipal protection in the spring of 2001, through policy memoranda issued by African American Mayor John Street (2000-2008) and his police commissioner John Timoney, an immigrant from Ireland. Immigration to the city, like the nation at large, took off in the 1990s, especially from Mexico but also from Haiti, Central America, and other regions whose peoples faced big obstacles to immigrating legally. Mayor Street and his next police commissioner, an African American Muslim, were sympathetic to issues of racial and religious profiling, especially after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Street and his allies also valued immigrants and their children as neighbors and political supporters.



The city’s next mayor, Michael Nutter (2008-2016), an enthusiastically neoliberal African American, supported the city’s sanctuary policies largely since they promised to protect a key driver of the city’s revitalization. The unauthorized immigrants whose labor undergirded Philadelphia’s burgeoning restaurant, construction, and other service industries were also chiefly responsible for ending the city’s 55-year population decline (1952-2007). I have calculated elsewhere that without illegal immigration, Philadelphia would not have started growing as it has in the twenty-first century.[16] Nutter’s commitment to sanctuary was thin. At the end of his second term, in an attempt to curry favor with the administration of Barack Obama, he canceled the policy. About two weeks later, on his first day in office, new Mayor James Kenney (2016-), of Irish and Italian American heritage, signed it back into force. A longtime champion of immigrant communities in City Council, his support for sanctuary derived in great part from his Catholic faith.

Since 2014, excepting the momentary lapse at the end of the Nutter administration, Philadelphia has had the strongest sanctuary policy in the nation. Unlike other sanctuary cities, it has refused to turn over even people convicted of serious felonies, based on the premise that they have served their time in prison and are part of families and communities in the city.

Philadelphia’s sanctuary policy is due at least as much to its activist community, which has continually pushed the city to expand and uphold it. In 2007, a group of activists, mostly too young to have participated in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, established the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSM). Around the same time, similar groups formed in Chicago and New York. As they did during the 1980s, these groups operated autonomously, not as a single organization. NSM cultivated a network of member congregations and allied organizations, also much like the 1980s. Some of the congregations have hosted immigrant families on order of deportation, increasingly since the election of Donald Trump.

So what’s new about the New Sanctuary Movement? Unlike the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, it is not an anti-war movement, but a more general immigrant rights movement. Its engagement and leadership from new immigrant communities has been greater, which is logical given the growth of those communities. NSM has supported families from Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico, Central America, Jamaica, and other places. Activists in the 1980s made a specific argument, repeating the mantra of Guatemalan and Salvadoran refugees: “if you knew the truth,” about what the U.S. was doing in Central America, “then surely you would help us.” NSM embraces a broader mantra, “no human is illegal,” and articulates a more enduring and global vision:

We believe Sanctuary is a vision continuously created through decades of struggle, through thousands of years of struggle. We are working, organizing, reaching and yearning towards that vision – a vision of collective and personal transformation.

We strive with fierce faith to build sanctuaries in ourselves as people and in our communities.  All our work, campaigns and community building are part of a larger vision to build Sanctuaries within ourselves, our cities, and our world.[17]

NSM also pursues a more concerted urban strategy. Sanctuary city protections are more widespread and more important today, as immigrants have settled in more parts of the country. NSM has launched campaigns supporting drivers licenses for undocumented people in the U.S., and against policies that require the towing of vehicles they drive. NSM’s Sanctuary in the Streets campaign has trained native- and foreign-born Philadelphia residents to resist and disrupt deportation raids, much like the Community Resistance Zones organized by its sometimes-partner, the community organizing group JUNTOS, whose members helped establish NSM. Like the meanings and practices of sanctuary, the geography of sanctuary is fluid, extending from sanctuary congregations to neighborhoods, cities, and communities in other countries.

The sanctuary movements of Philadelphia remind us of the larger field of geopolitics in which sanctuary and sanctuary cities operate. The leaders of the 1986 sanctuary city campaign wrote, “we also need to think about what it means that this country is so attractive: that we are an island of plenty in an impoverished world, and that our government is supporting oppressive governments… in many countries (Chile, the Philippines, South Africa, and many more).”[18] Ultimately, sanctuary and sanctuary cities help us reflect and act upon the injustices our nation perpetrates on peoples around the world, working to repair them in some small but profound ways. In this broader perspective, sanctuary cities are the places where immigrants, refugees, and their allies help one another rebuild lives and communities. Philadelphia remains an important center of that work.

Domenic Vitiello is a professor of city planning and urban studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus on urban and planning history, immigrant communities, and urban agriculture. His most recent book is an edited volume with Tom Sugrue, Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States. Domenic is currently writing a book titled The Sanctuary City that examines Central American, Southeast Asian, African, Arab, and Mexican immigration to Philadelphia since the 1970s. You can read his essays on immigration and community development in the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia (, and find other recent work at Domenic has been a member of the Coalition of African Communities in Philadelphia (AFRICOM), served on the board of the African Cultural Alliance of North America (a Liberian organization), as board co-chair of JUNTOS/Casa de los Soles, and has worked with many other immigrant and refugee community organizations in Philadelphia and other cities. In his younger days, he played for Guatemala in the Hispanic Soccer League of Philadelphia, and more recently refereed the annual African and Caribbean Soccer Tournament.

Featured image (at top): “Liberty Forsaken” mural in North Philadelphia, photo by Domenic Vitiello, 2002. 

[1] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary,” n.d. (winter-spring 1986), Philadelphia Committee In Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) Records, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[2] Outreach letter, April 1986, Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[3] “New Mexico Is Declared Sanctuary for Refugees,” New York Times (March 30, 1986).

[4] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[5] “Why Philadelphia Should Become a Sanctuary City,” n.d. (winter-spring 1986), Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[6] Linda Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum: A Social and Political History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016), 34ff; Ann Deslandes, “Sanctuary Cities Are as Old as the Bible,” JStor Daily (March 22, 2017), accessed September 5, 2017 at:

[7] Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America and Tucson Ecumenical Council Central America Task Force, “Sanctuary” (September 1982), reprinted in Angela Berryman, Central American Refugees: A Survey of the Current Situation, revised edition (American Friends Service Committee, May 1983), 35.

[8] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[9] Domenic Vitiello and Thomas J. Sugrue, “Introduction: Immigration and the New American Metropolis,” in Immigration and Metropolitan Revitalization in the United States, Vitiello and Sugrue, eds. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017), 3-4.

[10] “Resolution for City Council Action Declaring Philadelphia a City of Sanctuary.”

[11] Christian Smith, Resisting Reagan: The U.S. Central America Peace Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 185.

[12] Resolution No. 732, Journal of the City Council (Philadelphia, 1982), 331-332, 351; Resolution No. 1156, Journal of the City Council (Philadelphia, 1983), 737-738, 781; Philadelphia City Council, Resolution 707 (February 1, 1990); Philadelphia City Council Resolution (September 30, 1999), reprinted on School of the Americas Watch, visited December 11, 2015, at:

[13] David Funkhauser, “Some Thoughts on CAOP Direction, 1/13/86” (PAACA DG181 – box 9), Philadelphia Area Alliance for Central America Collection, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

[14] Ron Devlin, “Sanctuary for Refugees Spreads across U.S.,” The Morning Call (November 30, 1986).

[15] Jim Corbett, “Sanctuary, Basic Rights, and Humanity’s Fault Lines: A Personal Essay,” Weber vol. 5.1 (Spring/Summer 1988). Accessed December 11, 2015 at:

[16] Domenic Vitiello, “What does unauthorized immigration and sanctuary mean for Philly’s revival?” PlanPhilly (January 2017).

[17] New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, “2017 Statement on Sanctuary,” accessed January 31, 2019, at:

[18] “Why Philadelphia Should Become a Sanctuary City,” Central America Network files, Swarthmore Peace Collection.

The Complexities of Brotherly Love: Frank Rizzo, Blue Collar Conservatism and LGBTQ Rights in 1970’s Philadelphia

Editor’s note: In anticipation of next’s month’s #OAH2019/#OAH19 in Philadelphia, the March Metro of the Month is the City of Brotherly love. To get more info about the conference click over to the organization’s website, where you can also download the OAH’s program for the event.

“You know how it works in South Philly. Our strength has always been in our numbers.” local barkeep Max tells Philadelphia Eagles hopeful Vincent Papale in 2006’s Invincible. The underemployed Papale, a part-time bartender and substitute teacher, epitomized the downward economic trajectory of his fellow blue-collar white ethnics in 1976. The union was on strike, manufacturing was fleeing the city, and the Eagles were terrible. As the elder Frank Papale exhaustingly proclaims earlier in the film, “A man can only take so much failure.”

Despite the 1976 bicentennial, the city and nation had seen better days; a “crisis of confidence” had struck the nation, President Jimmy Carter would tell Americans in 1979. Though the Papales might not have articulated it in such terms, Philadelphia and the United States were both mired in “collective ‘existential despair.’”[1]

Broing down with Mark Wahlberg

A brogasm of Wahlbergian spectacle, Invincible depicts Philadelphia in all its white working-class patina-tinged glory; Mark Wahlberg’s everyman struggles to earn his place on a dismal Eagles team that resents his amateur presence, yet his plight captures his fellow citizens’ imaginations and attention as the newly appointed head coach, Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear), attempts to right a ship that had gone far off course.

As with their team, white, blue-collar Philadelphians similarly found themselves drifting listlessly into economic uncertainty; Wahlberg’s quest for a roster spot at least gave his fellow struggling white ethnics some measure of validation. “You’re one of us,” Max assures Papale. Papale securing a roster spot in the NFL pushed back against the erosion of national and local confidence, or as Carter put it, “the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives.”[2]

Unsurprisingly, the 1970s offered no shortage of similar takes on the city, the most obvious example being Rocky, a film released the same year as the real-life Papale’s ascent onto the Eagles roster. Its most iconic scene, Rocky Balboa “atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,” was “made possible by the Bicentennial.” Historian Christopher Capozzola writes that “the museum’s renovation” was financed as “part of the city’s Bicentennial cleanup campaign.”[3]

More recently, “Breaking Bad”—and to a far greater extent, “Better Call Saul”—featured the travails of the former Philadelphia cop Mike “No Half Measures” Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Ehrmantraut’s character is particularly resonant since the city’s police force helped to define the white blue-collar identity depicted so faithfully in contemporaneous films (such as the aforementioned Rocky and later, nostalgically, in Invincible). “Police work was a blue collar job and tradition, often passed down generation to generation,” notes Timothy Lombardo in his most recent work. “White police officers also shared the blue collar identity that developed in the city’s white working and middle class neighborhood.” Police embodied the identity and at the time, their work literally defended white interests. When White ethnic Philadelphians’ defended of local law enforcement, it only underscored this deeper connection.[4] Officers helped to defend their communities from crime and upheld long-standing values such as tradition, honor, hard work, and law and order.

4th of July, 1976 : demonstrate! : Philadelphia“, July 4th Coalition, Artworks Organization, 1976, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

While the end of the ‘70s remains defined by malaise, during the late 1960s and early 1970s white blue collar Philadelphians enjoyed cultural, and to some extent political ascendency behind the populist and controversial Mayor Frank Rizzo who himself had risen from the ranks of the PPD—first to Chief of Police during the mid-1960s, and later to the city’s highest office in 1972.


Long the junior party to Philadelphia’s WASP elite, the white working class residents envisioned a city remade in their image. Rizzo, described as “a cop’s cop,” embodied the hopes, resentments, and fears of his fellow white ethnics. He decried elites, personified working class masculinity, and criticized civil rights activists through a studied colorblind discourse that understood open displays of racism were no longer politically and socially viable. “If there is one thing I’m not,” he told a local journalist, “it’s against somebody because they are Negro or an Irishman, or anything else.”[5]

The former police chief crafted campaign slogans that effectively conveyed double meanings but steered clear of overt racial appeals. One, “Rizzo Means Business,” promoted his no nonsense blue collar approach and juxtaposed his masculinity against both the effete, pinheaded intellectual class and the burgeoning threat of Black Power activists. It also evoked the kind of “law and order” policies that defended the very neighborhoods inhabited by his supporters.[6] Rizzo understood the value of symbolism, be it appearing at an urban disturbance in a tuxedo with a billy club protruding from his cummerbund or endorsing Richard Nixon and handing the President a lighter emblazoned with Snoopy and the words “Fuck McGovern.”[7]

Yet Frank Rizzo’s ascendency has as much to do with the arc of twentieth century urban history and municipal policies as his combative style. Postwar reformers embraced New Deal municipal programs that promised (and sometimes delivered) benefits to its white residents, but that also reified structural inequalities, particularly in regard to race. “The gulf between the promises and limitations of urban liberalism established the urban crisis that shaped Philadelphia’s long postwar period,” Lombardo points out.[8] Public housing further carved the city’s neighborhoods into racial fiefdoms. Critically, it naturalized white privilege—or, to paraphrase William Upski Wimsatt from his underground 1994 memoir on tagging, Bomb the Suburbs, whites believed that having the proverbial wind at their back was the natural order of things.

GENERAL VIEW – Falls Bridge, Spanning Schuylkill River, connecting East & West River Drives, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA, Jack E. Boucher, 1972, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When urban decline and deindustrialization began to chip away at metropolitan economies, racial conflicts blossomed into urban tensions and uprisings. When civil rights activists demanded a piece of the share from which they had been denied, white ethnics revolted, embracing their cultural identity and retreating to neighborhoods like Bridesburg, Whitman, and Morrell Park in Greater Northeast Philadelphia.

“‘Defense of the neighborhood’ was at the root of nearly every conflict that contributed to the transformation in white working and middle class politics of the 1960s and 1970s,” writes Lombardo.[9] School integration and busing enabled Philadelphia’s Italian, Irish, and German American residents to organize around the collective identity they had come to define and the communities in which they resided. The Northeast became its own territory. “This isn’t Philly,” one civic leader noted. “This is Bridesburg.”[10]

If police officers represented one distillation of the blue-collar identity, construction work embodied another and also helps to explain how liberal urban policies contributed to the sort of expectations and disappointments that fueled white, blue-collar politics. By the mid-1960s, federal, state, and municipal expenditures on economic development poured over 17 billion into construction coffers; even as the city shed manufacturing employment during the 1950s and 1960s, federal urban renewal programs maintained a steady stream of work.

Attempts to broaden the workforce’s diversity met with resistance. Building and trade unions pushed back against attempts to integrate. “I never said no to a negro,” Joseph Burke of the Sheet Metal Workers told journalists, admitting in the same breath that “We didn’t go out looking for them either.”[11]

Leaders like Burke insisted the union hall promised black construction laborers their best hopes for work, yet refused to acknowledge the ways in which their control over apprentice programs and rules privileging seniority prevented black workers from gaining a real foothold in the industry.[12]

VIEW OF BROAD STREET FACADE – Bellevue-Stratford Hotel, Broad & Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA, Jack E. Boucher, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In spite or maybe because of this, the affirmative action plan the city enacted in 1967 became the nation’s first; it would develop into a national model. However, the Nixon administration’s institutionalization of the program had less to do with a sense of concern for the plight of non-white workers but rather, as Jefferson Cowie writes, as a means to outflank “the liberals and … flood the inflation-minded labor market.” Secretary of Labor George Schultz warned that the integration of the building trades would probably “help foment conflict between the two core constituents of the New Deal – labor and blacks.” A conflict that, as historians such as Rick Perlstein and Bruce Schulman contend, the president (and by extension Rizzo) had few qualms about fanning.[13]


Then again, white ethnic blue-collar Philadelphians did not hold a monopoly on identity formation during this period. The city’s gay community also asserted itself, amidst the same forces that produced its full-throated white, working class howl. As historian Kevin J. Mumford notes, the LGBTQ community’s quest for equal protection led to clashes with “religious and racial conservatives who challenged not only their rights but also their legitimacy as a minority.” The process necessitated a reconstruction of identities while “negotiating race relations and extending liberal impulses of the 1960s into the 1980s.”[14] In contrast to the blue-collar revolt that rejected racial compromise and built an identity in opposition to the liberal policies that helped buoy them, the push for LGBT equality worked, with admittedly varying degrees of success, to navigate racial tensions and harness social liberalism rather than repudiate each.

Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings circa 1965 in the nation’s capital. The two LGBTQ leaders helped to organize the 1965 Annual Reminder demonstration in Philadelphia the same year, c. 1965, Frank Kameny Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

In 1965, the Janus Society conducted sit-ins at a Philadelphia restaurant following an incident in which the manager refused to serve customers on the suspicion of their homosexuality. The protest resulted in several arrests, but more importantly drew publicity for the cause. On July 4th of the same year, Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Lilli Vincenz, among others, organized the first Annual Reminder demonstration outside Independence Hall emphasizing their rights as citizens.[15] These protests pre-dated the Stonewall Rebellion by several years and helped to lay the groundwork for a more militant Gay Liberation Movement, perhaps best represented by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), that blossomed during the early 1970s.

In Philadelphia, the GLF established a branch in 1971. Influenced by the Black Power movement, activists began declaring “gay is good” much as Stokely Carmichael coined the slogan “black is beautiful.” Even the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), which had been critical of BPP’s homophobia and had formed after objecting to the GLF’s attempts to court the local Black Panther Party (BPP), was clearly influenced by Black Power rhetoric. Though perceived as whiter, more academic, and less street oriented, the GAA adopted BPP language in its fliers and memos declaring “gay is angry!” and “gay is proud!”[16]

Despite this apparent convergence in the effort for equal rights, Philadelphia’s black community did not warm to the LGBT movement initially. Homophobia pervaded many of the “rights movements” of the time. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), feminism, and the New Left all struggled with such bigotry, and the Black Power movement was no exception. Many leading black religious figures criticized efforts by the gay community to establish a city council bill protecting the rights of the homosexual community, both due to their Christianity and worries about “the politics of respectability.” Reverend Melvin Floyd, a former Philadelphia cop who had established Neighborhood Crusade, Inc. and dedicated his life to social uplift, particularly in regard to the black community, questioned the effort. “The one thing about everything else that can destroy that kind of manhood is to come up with a generation or generations of homosexual black males,” he told the council during hearings. He also pointed to one of the LGBT movement’s largest weaknesses, its lack of diversity. “100 percent [of the people] of any organizations of gay rights are white.”[17]

President Gerald Ford at a farmers’ market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marion Trikosko, September 1976, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

However, there existed a wide diversity of viewpoints on the matter within the larger black community. According to a 1977 Gallup opinion poll, non-whites expressed “slightly more tolerance for homosexuals” than white respondents. Brother Grant Michael Fitzgerald, member of the Catholic religious order Society of the Divine Savior and a black gay activist, defended the bill during the same hearings. Gay men and women should be able to publicly hold hands just as “black people … and interracial couples can do … today,” he told council members. The black newspaper, The Philadelphia Tribune, which admittedly sometimes trafficked in sensationalism when it came to the city’s LGBT community and was not always a reliable ally in this regard, decried Floyd’s remarks as “absurd.”

Rizzo’s hypermasculinity and penchant for saying things such as “I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot” failed to endear him to the city’s gay residents.[18] The rise of the New Right, Anita Bryant’s homophobic crusades of the 1970s, and Rizzo’s own rhetoric sparked fresh activism in the city such as the formation of Gays at Penn in 1975, which consisted of staff and students at the University of Pennsylvania.

Three years later, behind Reverend James H. Littrell and organized by Penn staff and students, Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF) was established and it soon aligned itself with the Philadelphia Coalition of Black Gays. During the 1980s lesbian feminist activist Rita Addessa took the helm and the PLGTF launched a new effort to get a major rights bill passed in Philadelphia. The end of Rizzo’s administration, new elections, and a new mayor who publically supported gay rights marked a new day and in 1982 hearings on a new bill went very differently. Granted, the new law, Bill 1358, failed to pass, but the council agreed to amend the Fair Practices Ordinance by adding sexual orientation. Unlike Rizzo and his followers, gay rights advocates, though “slow to grapple with intersections of identity” such that its political base had become too white and too male, still “drew on the long civil rights movement and sought protection from discrimination in what were essentially civil rights statutes,” writes Mumford.[19]

Post-Rizzo Philadelphia, like its football team, struggled as the 1970s ended and the 1980s commenced. The MOVE bombing of 1985 arguably represented its nadir. Though his administration deployed rhetoric and policies favored by the city’s white, blue-collar community, the addition of sexual orientation as a protected class to city statues represented only one aspect of “Rizzocrat” frailty. Throughout the 1970s, deindustrialization was afoot and no amount of rhetoric could change that fact. “Blue collar ascendency did not change the reality of blue collar decline,” writes Lombardo. Even as Rizzo burnished Philly’s white working class bonafides, the ground underneath it had already shifted. “Ironically, Philadelphia’s blue collar reputation emerged just as it was in the midst of a transition to a more white collar and service sector economy.”[20]

Twin towers of Liberty Place, photographed here at dusk, rose in 1987 and 1990 respectively in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the city stumbled out of the twentieth and into the twenty first century, Philly was, as the kids like to say, very seen. The 1993 movie Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks as a lawyer named Andrew Beckett who was fired by his firm for both his contraction of HIV and his sexuality, neatly captures the limits of the LGBT community’s success in the city. The only attorney willing to take his case, Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), cannot hide his own homophobia, though much like black leaders in the early 1980s, he too comes around on the issue of sexuality by the film’s conclusion.

Later the nihilistic but often very funny sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” followed the exploits of “The Gang,” their South Philly Irish bar and their various morally dubious adventures. Silver Linings Playbook came after (2012), continuing the theme of tortured Eagles fans—though no one would describe Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as distinctly blue collar or particularly ethnic.

Today, Philly is known as much for its ascendant professional sports teams and burgeoning hipster art and music scene as for its white, working class. The War on Drugs epitomizes the latter—hardly a testament to Rizzo’s legacy, though one could argue that the Flyers mascot, Gritty exists as nod to this past. Yet one barely need mention, if you look at our political debates nationally, the late mayor seems to have represented more than just an undercurrent in American politics.

As always, you’ll find our bibliography below, with special thanks to James Wolfinger and Abigail Perkiss for their recommendations. We know it’s incomplete so any book recommendations exploring eighteenth and nineteenth century Philly are very welcome, as are any others we might have missed that examine city during the last and current century. All suggestions welcome in the comments!


Adams, Carolyn. Philadelphia: Neighborhoods, Division, and Conflict in a Postindustrial City. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
Arnold, Stanley. Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930-1970. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.
Banner-Haley, Charles. To Do Good and To Do Well: Middle-Class Blacks and the Depression, Philadelphia, 1929-1941. New York: Taylor & Francis, 1993.
Bauman, John. Public Housing, Race, and Renewal: Urban Planning in Philadelphia, 1920-1974. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Binzen, Peter, and Joseph R. Daughen. The Cop Who Would Be King: The Honorable Frank Rizzo. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.

Birger, Jon S. “Race, Reaction, and Reform: The Three Rs of Philadelphia School Politics, 1965– 1971.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 120, no. 3 (July 2006).

Clark, Dennis. The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.
Cole, Peter. Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive-Era Philadelphia. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Countryman, Matthew. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.
Curry, Leonard. “Philadelphia’s Free Blacks: Two Views.” Journal of Urban History 16, no. 3 (1990): 319-325,

Davis, Allen F. and Mark H. Haller, eds. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-Class Life, 1790-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.
Delmont, Matthew. The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

——-. “Making Philadelphia Safe for ‘WFIL-adelphia’: Television, Housing and Defensive Localism in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 1 (2012): 193-213,

Davidow, Julia. “The Crusade is Now Begun in Philadelphia: Municipal Reformers, Southern Moderates and African American Politics.” Journal of Urban History 44, no. 2 (2018): 153-168,

DuBois, W.E.B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899. Reprint, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996.

Feffer, Andrew. “Show Down in City Center: Staging Redevelopment and Citizenship in Bicentennial Philadelphia, 1974-1977.” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 6 (2004): 791-825, DOI: 10.1177/0096144204263814

Ferman, Barbara, Theresa Singleton, and Don DeMarco. “West Mount Airy, Philadelphia.” Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research 4, no. 2 (1998).

Grant, Elizabeth. “Race and Tourism in America’s First City.” Journal of Urban History 31, no. 6: 850-871.

Heller, Gregory L. Ed Bacon: Planning, Politics and the Building of Modern Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Hempell, C. Dallett. “Review Essay: Whose City? Whose History?: Three Class Histories of Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 33, no. 1 (2006):108-119,

Hepp IV, John. The Middle-Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Hershberg, Theodore, ed. Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family, and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.
Hillier, Amy. “Who Received Loans? Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Lending and Discrimination in Philadelphia in the 1930s.” Journal of Planning History 2, no. 1 (2003).

——-. “Redlining the Homeowners’ Loan Corporation.” Journal of Urban History 29, no. 4 (2003): 394-420,

Katz, Michael B., and Thomas J. Sugrue. W. E. B. DuBois, Race, and the City: “The Philadelphia Negro” and Its Legacy. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998.

Kilbride, Daniel. “The Cosmopolitan South: Privileged Southerners, Philadelphia, and the Fashionable Tour in the Antebellum Era.” Journal of Urban History 26, no. 5 (2000): 563-590,

Knowles, Scott Gabriel, ed. Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

Lane, Roger. Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.

Levenstein, Lisa. A Movement Without Marches: African American Women and the Politics of Poverty in Postwar Philadelphia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Licht, Walter. Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Lombardo, Timothy J. Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.
Lyons, Paul. Philadelphia Communists, 1936-1956. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.
McKee, Guian. The Problem of Jobs: Liberalism, Race, and Deindustrialization in Philadelphia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

——-. “Are Urban Histories Bowling Alone?: Social Capital Theory and Urban History.” Journal of Urban History 36, no. 5 (2010): 709-717,

Metraux, Stephen. “Waiting for the Wrecking Ball: Skidrow in Postindustrial Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 25, no. 5 (1999): 690-715,

Mumford, Kevin J. “The Trouble with Gay Rights: Race and the Politics of Sexual Orientation in Philadelphia, 1969-1982.” Journal of American History 98, no. 1 (June 2011): 48-72.

Paolantonio, S. A. Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America. Philadelphia: Camino Books, 1993.

Perkiss, Abigail. Making Good Neighbors: Civil Rights, Liberalism, and Integration in Postwar Philadelphia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014.

——-. “Managed Diversity: Contested Meanings of Integration in Post-WWII Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 38, no. 3: 410-429,

Resnik, Henry S. Turning on the System: War in the Philadelphia Public Schools. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970.

Rosswurm, Steve. “Emancipation in New York and Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 21, no. 4 (1995): 505-510,

Royles, Dan. “Don’t We Die Too?”: The Politics of Race and AIDS in Philadelphia,” in Rethinking Sexual Politics: Gay Rights and the Challenge of Urban Diversity in the Post-Civil Rights Era, ed. Jonathan Bell. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming.

Ryan, Francis. AFSCME’s Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

Ryberg, Stephanie R. “Historic Preservation’s Urban Renewal Roots: Preservation and Planning in Midcentury Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 2 (2013): 193-213,

Salinger, Sharon V. “The Phoenix of the ‘New Urban History’: Old Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 18, no. 3 (1992): 330-337,

Savage, Michael. “Beyond Boundaries: Envisioning Metropolitan School Desegregation in Boston, Detroit and Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History, (online, 2018)

Schneider, Eric C., Christopher Agee, and Themis Chronopolous. “Dirty Work: Police and Community Relations and the Limits of Liberalism in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History, (online, 2017),

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945-1972. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Stranger-Ross, Jordan. “Neither Fight Nor Flight: Urban Synagogues in Postwar Philadelphia.” Journal of Urban History 32, no. 6 (2006): 791-812.

Toloudis, Nicholas. “How Local 192 Fought for Academic Freedom and Civil Rights in Philadelphia, 1934-1941.” Journal of Urban History, (Online, 2018).

Vietillo, Dominic. “Machine Building and City Building: Urban Planning and Restructuring in Philadelphia, 1894-1928.” Journal of Urban History 34, no. 3 (2008): 399-434,

Warner, Sam Bass Jr. The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1968.

Weigley, Russell, ed. Philadelphia: A 300 Year History. New York: Norton, 1982.

Willis, Arthur C. Cecil’s City: A History of Blacks in Philadelphia, 1638–1979. New York: Carlton Press, 1990.

Wolfinger, James. Philadelphia Divided: Race and Politics in the City of Brotherly Love. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

——-. Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2016.

Young, David W. “The Battles of Germantown: Public History and Preservation in America’s Most Historic Neighborhood during the Twentieth Century.” PhD diss., Ohio State University Press, 2009.

Featured image (at top): Philadelphia Museum of Art, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress 

[1] William Graebner, “America’s Poseidon Adventure: A Nation in Existential Despair,” in America in the 70s, eds. Beth Bailey and David Farber (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2004), 157-158.

[2] Graebner, “America’s Poseidon Adventure,” 158.

[3] Christopher Capozzola, “It Makes You Want to Believe in the Country,” in America in the 70s, eds. Beth Bailey and David Farber (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 2004), 29.

[4] Timothy Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018), 52.

[5] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 136.

[6] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 138,148.

[7] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 133, 157.

[8] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 24.

[9] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 25.

[10] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 41.

[11] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 118.

[12] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 119.

[13] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 117; Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 150; Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (New York: Scribner, 2008); Bruce Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: Da Capo Press, 2002).

[14] Kevin J. Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights: Race and the Politics of Sexual Orientation in Philadelphia, 1969-1982,” Journal of American History (June 2011): 49-50.

[15] John D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983), 174.

[16] “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 54-55.

[17] Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 52, 54-5, 60.

[18] Capozzola, “It Makes You Want to Believe in the Country,” 41.

[19] Mumford, “The Trouble with Gay Rights,” 68-72.

[20] Lombardo, Blue Collar Conservatism, 158.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Two Airports: A David vs. Goliath Story

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Ray Clark

Before June 7, 1987, when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) took control of Ronald Reagan Washington Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operated these facilities. They were the only two major commercial airports built and operated by the federal government. Since the FAA also regulated the airlines, it took an indirect approach when it came to managing the usage of these airports by the airlines. The result was that for decades Dulles remained underutilized, while National remained overcrowded. While MWAA has increased the usage of Dulles, it has been unable to relieve air traffic congestion at National. The reason for this is simple; travelers will opt for the more convenient airport even if that airport is crowded.

National Airport. Exterior of National Airport on airport side from center, Theodore Horydczak, ca. 1920 -ca. 1950, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In 1947, a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) analysis group reported that Washington National Airport would exceed its capacity to handle both aircraft and passengers by 1955. The group recommended building a new airport to relieve this overcrowding since DCA’s location made expansion of the existing airfield impractical. Acting on this recommendation, Administrator D. W. Rentzel requested Congressional authorization to build a second commercial airport for the National Capital Region. Congress agreed to this request, passing the Airport Act of 1950. Almost from the start, the CAA understood that if the new airport were too far from the nation’s capital travelers would choose the convenience of a congested National over an uncrowded but remote airport. During the Congressional hearing over funding for the new airport, the CAA specifically rejected the notion that Baltimore’s newly constructed airport could function as the region’s second airport because it was too far away.[1]

Control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 – 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The CAA initially chose Burke, Virginia as the location for the new airport, but community opposition forced it to look elsewhere. The CAA chose Burke because it had enough undeveloped land to build what in 1950 would be a modern, efficient airport; it was also only 30 minutes further from Capitol Hill than National. As work on the new airport stalled the 1947 forecasts for National Airport proved correct with both aircraft and passenger usage exceed the facility’s limits resulting in a congested terminal, insufficient passenger parking, a crowded airfield, and more aircraft arriving than the facility could safely accommodate. Eventually, Congress demanded the CAA do something about all this congestion but do it someplace other than Burke, the CAA selected a site near Chantilly, Virginia for the region’s second airport. In 1958 construction began on Washington Dulles International Airport. The Chantilly location had been among the handful of sites under consideration since 1948 but was deemed too far a commute. Between Dulles’ opening in November 1962 and its transfer to MWAA, the airport was under utilized while passenger and aircraft traffic at National continued to grow. Only since the mid-1990s has Dulles’ numbers equaled those of the older, much smaller airport.

The Air Transport Association first identified a public preference for a convenient airport over an uncongested one in a study conducted in 1953. This study showed that in New York and Los Angeles where there was a choice of airports, travelers preferred the one with the least amount of driving even if that airport was more congested or offered fewer flight options to their destination. Passengers demonstrated this same preference in the Washington Metropolitan Region preferring crowded over underutilized National over distant Dulles.[2]

Aerial view of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Aerial view of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

National’s convenience stems from the fact it is one of the few airports in this country located adjacent to a city center. Travel time from Capitol Hill to this airport is about 30 minutes. It can take just over an hour for members of Congress to get to Dulles. Being closer makes National the preferred airport. In 2017, about the same number of passengers used National (11,506,310) as used Dulles (11,024,306). This parity is recent since usage at Dulles did not come close to National’s numbers until the early 1990s. The significant event that brought this about was the completion of the Dulles International Airport Access Highway (DIAAH) section between the Capital Beltway and Interstate Highway 66.[3]

Terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Alexandria, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Dulles’ designers understood from the start that the success of the airport depended on swift and easy access. During the original construction, sufficient right of way was acquired to allow the building of not just a four-lane limited access road to the airport but a double track rapid transit rail line and a four-lane local access highway as well. The access highway would not run all the way to the District of Columbia but connect with Interstate Highway 66 (I-66) near Falls Church, Virginia (with that road completing the connection into Washington). When Dulles open in November 1962, I-66 only extended as far east as Gainsville, Virginia. Unfortunately, before Virginia began construction on I-66 inside the Beltway local opposition to the road delayed the work until 1980. During this delay passenger growth at Dulles was sluggish while National Airport reached almost double its designed capacity.[4]

Once the completed DIAAH/I-66 access route opened in November 1983, Dulles saw an increase in its rate of growth. Easier access from the District was not the only factor contributing to this trend. During the ensuing twenty years, the Northern Virginia suburbs had grown out toward the airport along the access road corridor. As a result of this, a significant number of potential travelers now lived or worked closer to Dulles than National.

The planned rapid transit line to Dulles never began because the construction of any mass transit system in the Washington Metropolitan Region fell under the purview of the National Capital Transportation Agency (NCTA). This federal agency created by the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960 was responsible for all mass transportation planning in the region. Over the next several years, the FAA assisted the NCTA by providing passenger data at both Dulles and National Airports to assist it in the planning of what would become the Washington Metro. Several plans developed by the NCTA showed a rail line out to Dulles International, but the construction of this connection was always considered a future project, and not included any current budget. Finally, in 2004 the airport took matters into its own hands when MWAA announced it would fund construction of a Washington Metro line to the airport with the projected completion sometime in 2020.[5]

Aerial view of Dulles airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The FAA adopted several policies during the first decade of Dulles’s operation to encourage the airlines to move the majority of their operations from National to Dulles without actually ordering them to make such moves. This indirect approach was necessary because of the regulatory authority the agency exercised over the airlines. Baltimore and the State of Maryland were continually accusing the FAA of exerting undue influence over the airlines to use either National or Dulles over Baltimore’s Friendship Airport, now known as Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Friendship was constantly struggling to attract enough flights to stay out of the red financially. Beginning with Congressional hearings in 1950, Baltimore accused first the CAA and then its successor the FAA of taking air traffic that rightfully belonged to them.

Mobile lounges that locals call “people movers,” ferrying passengers to their planes from the terminal at Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The FAA’s first indirect policy was a ban on turbojet aircraft at National. Initially, this ban was easy to enforce since the first jetliners were too big to operate from National’s short runways. However, the next generation of smaller jets like the Boeing 737 and the Douglas DC-9 could operate from those shorter runways. With the nation’s midsized airports opened to jet aircraft by these models, there was no longer a reason for the airlines to retain their older and more expensive prop airliners. By 1965 the removal of these older aircraft from service forced the FAA to choose between closing National or allowing jets to use the facility. The popularity of convenient National over distant Dulles with members of Congress made closing National politically impossible, so jets were allowed to use the field.[6]

Dulles Airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Just before its opening, the FAA designated Dulles the region’s long-range airport and relegated National to short-haul flights. When the FAA lifted the jet ban at National, it sought to reinforce this designation by imposing a 600-mile perimeter on nonstop flights. However, at the urging of Congress, this perimeter was extended to 1,000 miles, where it remained until 1996. In that year Congress passed legislation that extended the perimeter to 1,250 miles and allowed for twelve round trip flights daily, one to each of twelve cities beyond the perimeter: Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.[7]

One further attempt by the FAA to influence airlines to move operations from National to Dulles was a limit on the number of take-offs or landings that could occur each hour at National. The agency imposed the first of these slot limitations in 1969. The airport was limited to 37 slots per hour. This policy worked, with passenger volume remaining static until the year 2000. During this time passenger volume at Dulles grew, eventually surpassing that at National. After 2000 the advances in air traffic control technology allowed the FAA to increase the number of slots per hour without adversely impacting congestion in the air around the airport, which was the official reason for the limitation. National is currently limited to 62 slots per hour. With more flights allowed, many airlines that had moved operations to Dulles during the boom following airline deregulation in 1980 have since moved back to National.

airport comparison

Despite its small size, National was the 24th busiest airport in the country in 2017 based on passenger boardings, while Dulles was 25th. With a land area of 861 acres, National falls well below the 5,698 acre average for a commercial airport in the United States. Dulles is 15 times larger with an area of 13,000 acres. The same restrictions on growth that existed in 1947 when the CAA determined a second airport was needed exist today, so the airport can not expand—yet passenger throughput continues to grow. This trend will only continue in the coming years. One reason is that National’s biggest fan, Congress, is not going anywhere. Another is that in 2018 Amazon announced the location of its new headquarters a 10-minute drive away from National in Crystal City, Virginia. This development represents tens of thousands of new customers for National Airport especially given the location of Amazon’s current headquarters. That facility is in Seattle, one of the twelve cities outside the 1,250-mile perimeter with direct flights.

For any number of reasons, Dulles should be the busier of the National Capital Region’s two airports. The one unknown in the future is the opening of the Washington Metro station at Dulles in 2020. Will that opening finally gives Dulles the advantage in the convenience struggle or will Amazon’s HQ2 offset any passenger gains from the rail line?

Featured image (at top): Panorama of Dulles Airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

MeRay W. Clark graduated from Lincoln High School, Portland, Oregon, in 1966. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Reed College in 1970. He was a commissioned officer in the United States Navy from 1970 to 1991 then worked as a project manager for PRC, Litton Industries, Northrop Grumman, and TASC from 1992 to 2013. He is currently retired. He received a Master of Arts Degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University in 1986, a Master of Arts in History from George Mason University in 2006, and a Ph. D. in history from George Mason in 2017. He is currently finishing a history of Washington Dulles International Airport.

[1] “Need of More Air Facilities Seen in D.C.,” Washington Post, August 3, 1947; John G. Norris, “More Airports for D.C. Area Recommended by CAA Chief,” Washington Post, October 21, 1947; Jean Reiff, “Fairfax Field for Airport’s Excess Traffic Given Study,” Washington Post, January 18, 1948.

[2] Emory S. Land, President, Air Transport Association to Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 8, 1953, Official File 105 Aeronautics and Aviation Box 422, White House Central Files, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

[3] “Commercial Service Airports (Rank Order) based on Calendar Year 2017 Enplanements,” capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/cy17-commercial-service-enplanements.pdf accessed 2/19/2019

[4] FAA Metropolitan Washington Airports, “Final Environmental Impact Statement: Dulles Access Highway Extension to I-66 and Outer Parallel Roadways from Route 7 to I-495,” November 14, 1980, p18, p51, Box 27/ Folder 2, Virginians for Dulles records, Collection #C0025, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

[5] Zachary M Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Creating the North American Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 41; C. Darwin Stolzenbach, Administrator, National Capital transportation Agency to Najeeb E, Halaby, Administrator, Federal Aviation Agency; June 11, 1962; June 1962; Records of the Office of the Administrator, Box 82; Headquarters Records of the Federal Aviation Administration, 1926-81; Records of the FAA, RG 237, NACP; “Silver Line: About”;

[6] Statement of Policy on the Use of Washington National Airport by Scheduled Turbo-Jet Transport Aircraft, November 13, 1959; November 1959; Records of the Office of the Administrator Box 2; Headquarters Records of the FAA, 1926-81; Records of the FAA, Record Group 237, NACP; Albon B. Harley, “Jet Tests Begin at National; Friendship Fears Traffic Loss: Halaby at Controls,” The Washington Post, July 16, 1961; “Legislator Wants D.C. Jet Service,” The Sun, January 13, 1965; “Lift Jet Ban, FAA Is Urged,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, January 13, 1965; Hob W. Anderson, “Long Denounces Jets at National: Friedel, Brewster, Crane Join Friendship Protest,” The Sun, January 12, 1966.

[7] “Airport Overview,”

African American Life in Arlington, Virginia, during Segregation: A Geographer’s Point of View

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Nancy Perry

Arlington County, Virginia, home of the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, is a prosperous, racially and culturally diverse urban county located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. (the District). The county’s 26 square miles of land is bordered by the Potomac River on the eastern edge and by the state of Virginia. Census data show us that in 2010, 64 percent of the population was white, 10 percent was Asian, 16 percent was Hispanic, and nine percent was black.

Arlington County, Virginia’s black neighborhoods and enclaves. All the black enclaves were gone by 1950. Map by Nancy Perry, projection NAD 1983 UTM Zone 18N.

Arlington has been home to African Americans since the 1600s, when slaves labored on tobacco farms in the county [1]. Some black Arlingtonians are descendants of those slaves, living on land their ancestors purchased from their masters at the end of the Civil War [1; 2]. Others are descendants of contraband slaves who fled to the District during the war seeking safety. Still others descend from former slaves who migrated northward from Georgia and the Carolinas during Reconstruction, and some descend from sharecroppers who moved north during the Jim Crow period [3].

Arlington is on the margin between North and South. It is in a culturally ‘Southern’ state, yet it shares a border with Washington D.C., the capital of the Union during the Civil War. As a culturally Southern state, Virginia embraced Jim Crow. With the passage of the 1902 Virginia constitution, de facto segregation became de jure in all of Virginia. African Americans and whites could not attend the same schools. They could not sit together on steamboats, motorcars, or trains. They could not be quartered together in penitentiaries. They could not sit together in any public hall, theatre, motion picture, show, or place of public entertainment or assemblage. If African Americans and whites were to intermarry, they would be guilty of a felony and be confined in the penitentiary from one to five years. Perhaps most crucial, poll taxes and literacy tests prevented most black Virginians from voting [4].

In 1900 Arlington consisted mostly of farmland, with populated settlements scattered evenly throughout the county, including a few larger neighborhoods and many small enclaves. The settlements had no water or sewer systems. Wells were the source of water and outhouses or septic tanks took care of sanitation. Gas was used for illumination in the District, but kerosene lamps were still the rule in Arlington. Thirty-eight percent of the inhabitants were black. The African Americans lived in clusters, segregated from whites more by income than by race. As is suggested from their names, the three larger black neighborhoods (Halls Hill, Johnson’s Hill, and Green Valley) were built on hills with a view of the District [5].

Rural life would not last forever. By 1900 Arlington’s close proximity to the District made it attractive to government workers anxious to leave the congestion of the city for a home in the suburbs. In a few short years, bridges carrying roads and electric railroads connected the District with Arlington and outlying regions. On the heels of the new transportation infrastructure came developers putting up residential subdivisions. The county equipped those subdivisions with paved streets, water and sewer pipes, and electric and gas lines to serve the new residents. Residential segregation ensured that those new subdivisions were populated only by whites [6].

Amenities and improvements were much slower to appear in the black enclaves and neighborhoods. Until legislation during the Civil Rights Era required it, official Arlington County neglected the black neighborhoods, failing to pave streets or run water, gas, and sewer pipes in black neighborhoods. Unable to vote, black Arlingtonians had little influence over the disparity in their treatment. [7]

East Arlington street scene in 1910. The street is unpaved, with no gutters and no sidewalks. By 1941 when it was leveled to make way for the Pentagon, Arlington County still had not run paved streets, sidewalks, curbing, gutters, electric lines, water or sewer to the enclave of East Arlington. Reproduced with permission of the Virginia Room, Arlington Public Library.

The migration of whites to Arlington began with the slow buildup of the government during World War I. White federal workers began moving across the Potomac River, out of the District but still within an easy commute to work. That migration intensified during the New Deal and World War II, lightening the complexion of the once rural county [8].

Population, Arlington County, Virginia, 1900-1970. The population increased dramatically during the first seventy years of the twentieth century. By 1970 Arlington was a bustling suburb of almost 243,000 residents, 92 percent of them white. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.

The black enclaves frequently got in the way as developers built new homes for the in-migrants. Money was used to entice black families out of their enclaves (but not out of the neighborhoods) rather than violence being used to force them out in order to make room for new construction. African Americans had lived in Arlington as long as the original whites and much longer than in-migrating whites. Coming from an agricultural background, black Arlingtonians appreciated the efficacy of owning the land they lived on. Even farm laborers, servants, and railroad porters owned their own homes. In 1900, 59 percent of Arlington’s black families were homeowners and by 1920, that number rose to 64 percent. A high level of home ownership put the black community at an advantage when developers scooped up their land to build developments for the whites [9].

By the mid-20th century all the black enclaves were swallowed up by new white developments, their former residents clustered in the three black neighborhoods. East Arlington, the largest of the enclaves with 900 residents, was one of the last to disappear, leveled in 1942 to make way for the new Pentagon building [10]. After integration most African Americans did not choose to move into the white neighborhoods, but remained where they were. Their neighborhoods have since gradually become integrated as both whites and people of other races have moved in.

During segregation, black Arlingtonians were unwelcome in white-owned businesses other than grocery stores. They could not get a bank account, buy shoes or clothing from a department store, hire a white contractor to build their home, get a haircut from a white barber or hair dresser, or frequent a white diner or lunch counter. Some residents started their own small businesses providing their neighbors with the goods and services they could not buy from the white community; they became survivalist entrepreneurs, “persons who become self-employed in response to a desperate need to find an independent means of livelihood” [11].

Mamie Brown, a Green Valley beautician, opened Friendly Beauty School. She graduated more than 300 students who went on to own and operate beauty shops of their own. Photo courtesy of Aaronita Brown.

Few business owners had the resources to open a retail business. Instead, they opened tiny restaurants, convenience stores, and shops providing services. Eighty percent of the businesses were in the owner’s home, with the restaurants located in the family’s dining room and enterprises like beauty shops, repair shops, and convenience stores located in the basement or a spare bedroom. Particularly successful were the building contractors found in all the neighborhoods. During segregation, white contractors refused to build for black families lest it appear they were working for African Americans, so the black contractors had no lack of work. Some owners ran several businesses at one time, including the Green Valley family that juggled a taxi service, a restaurant, a beauty shop, and heating oil, coal, and ice distributorships. The few businesses that were not home-based included two funeral homes, a pharmacy, a gas station, and a TV repair shop [12].


This commerce made the neighborhoods cohesive and self-reliant. Because public transportation did not connect the neighborhoods until the early 1940s, a business’s customer base comprised only those families living nearby. No white customers ever came into the black neighborhoods to shop. All three of the neighborhoods, however, were connected to the District by public transportation. In 1950 the District had a much larger black population than Arlington. Of the 802,178 residents of the District, 280,803 (35%) were black. The black-owned businesses in the District welcomed Arlington’s 6500 African Americans. Because there were so many attractive shopping and entertainment options in the District, and because traveling from the neighborhoods to the District was easier than traveling between the neighborhoods, there was little incentive for African Americans to build an extensive business infrastructure of their own. Only those things that were not worth a bus trip to the District were obtained in one of the small businesses in the neighborhoods. Everything else was purchased in the District [13].

Mr. Walker’s shop, run out of the basement of his home. If you were African American and your shoes needed to be repaired you took them to Mr. Walker. His store was the only shoe repair shop in Arlington that served African Americans. © Lloyd Wolf/Arlington Photographic Documentary Project. Reproduced with permission.

Once Arlington integrated and African Americans were allowed to trade white-owned businesses, the small neighborhood businesses gradually disappeared. By 1970 only a few larger businesses such as the taxi services, the TV repair shop, and the funeral parlors clung to existence. The home-based economy disappeared [14].

The number of African Americans in Arlington who supported themselves by opening a business was dwarfed by the number working for a salary. The occupations they chose were a function of segregation and proximity to the federal government in the District. Using the original manuscript census data, it is possible to identify the occupations of individual black workers. In 1900 a total of 40 job types were listed. Most black men labored on a farm, in the several brickyards along the Potomac River, or as general laborers. Most black women performed domestic work for white families. By 1940, the last year for which manuscript census data is available, 127 job types were listed. The variety of jobs increased, the compensation and status did not. The 1940 census mentions the car washer but not the car dealer, the shoe shiner but not the shoe store owner, nurse’s aides but not nurses. Women continued to cook, clean, and rear children of white families [15].

Chinn Funeral Home. Black-owned mortuaries were guaranteed to have customers because African Americans were unwelcome in white-owned mortuaries. The Chinn Funeral Home opened in 1946. It is still in operation. © Lloyd Wolf/Arlington Photographic Documentary Project. Reproduced with permission.

The loss of labor jobs can be explained by the huge in-migration of white government workers to Arlington during 1900-1970. Farms were subdivided to make way for new housing developments, removing the demand for farm laborers. Land that supplied clay for Arlington’s many brickyards, and land occupied by those brickyards, was lost during construction of the Pentagon, built in 1941-1942. The last brickyard to go was West Bros Brickyard. When West Bros was torn down, 100 black men lost employment [16].

Correlation between the size of Arlington’s population and number of black occupational choices per census for the 1900-1940 censuses. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.

Career training was limited for young African Americans. Arlington’s segregated schools were inferior. The county spent very little on black schools, giving the students castoffs from the white schools. If a white school got new books, the old books were sent down to the black school. The only career training the black high school offered was typing classes, and the only students taking those classes were girls whose families could afford to buy them a typewriter. Many girls took advantage of those classes, carrying their heavy typewriters to school daily [17].

West Bros Brickyard. Reproduced with permission of the Virginia Room, Arlington Public Library.

Another schooling option for some of Arlington’s black children was District schools. While the District’s schools were segregated, the black schools were excellent. Funded by Congress, they were required to pay black teachers the same as white teachers, making them attractive to black teachers from all over the country. District schools were open to the children of all federal employees, including black employees from Arlington [18].

Arlington Civil Service employee. Photo courtesy of Florence Ross.

Whether they were educated in Arlington or the District, the students’ labors paid off when the Pentagon opened in 1942. Many residents of the black community took Civil Service jobs at the Pentagon. Clerical positions existed for anyone who could type and file. Former farm and brickyard laborers found work as custodians and messengers. Compared to labor and domestic work done for private individuals, Civil Service jobs paid a modest but reliable salary and offered the security of a pension. A large percent of black Arlingtonians worked for the Civil Service for at least a portion of their careers, ninety percent of them in custodial jobs and the rest performing clerical work [19].

Black employment in Arlington, 1900 – 1940. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.


The history of Arlington County is a function of the county’s unique geography. This geography was crucial to the story line of the black community during segregation. The ancestors of this community had lived in Arlington since the early 1600s, working as slaves on farms and plantations in Arlington. On obtaining their freedom, many of them bought land in the county, and farmed it for their own families. By 1900, more than half the black households owned their own land and homes.

The county is sandwiched between the District and the state of Virginia. Virginia’s southern roots, manifest in a plethora of Jim Crow laws, weighed heavily on Arlington’s black community. The places in Arlington where African Americans were unwelcome far outnumbered the places where they were welcome. Any other black community in Virginia had to either cobble together a collection of shops and services, travel long distances to get what they needed, or go without. Shopping was much more convenient for Arlington’s African Americans. Only the Potomac River stood between them and the shopping and entertainment options provided by the District’s large, successful black community.

The District is also home of the federal government. Proximity to the District and the government was a mixed blessing. For the black children of federal employees, the city offered schools that were far superior to the black schools in Arlington. Proximity to the capital gave easy access to Civil Service employment with the federal government, providing many black Arlingtonians a steady income and a pension. But the District was also the source of thousands of white federal workers who wanted to work there and live in nearby Arlington. Developers bought up farms and enclaves belonging to African Americans and replaced them with white-only developments. The black families who had lived there were pushed into three black neighborhoods. Fortunately, the neighborhoods had room to absorb them and black builders to build them new homes.

For the residents of the enclave of East Arlington, geographic proximity to the federal government meant loss and gain. They lost their entire community during World War II when the federal government needed land on which to build the new Pentagon building. The 900 residents of East Arlington lost their homes and some lost their employment. However, the Pentagon generated an abundance of Civil Service jobs that had not been available before.

Since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, Arlington has become a much more integrated city. The three formerly all black neighborhoods are home to all races, although they are still at least fifty percent black. While most of the African Americans who lived through segregation have since passed on, those who have survived still live in their homes in the three neighborhoods, near family, friends, and their church. Because of its proximity to the District and the federal government, Arlington is an expensive place to live. The county assessment and real estate taxes have risen exponentially since the years of segregation. Eventually the three neighborhoods could become so expensive that the very families who were forced to live there during segregation will no longer be able to afford it. Thus ends this chapter in the history of the community.

NancyPerry.jpgNancy Perry currently teaches geography at Helena College, a branch of the University of Montana. She received her PhD in Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her dissertation focused on the geographical aspects of segregation for the African American community in Arlington, VA.




  1. Rose, Cornelia B. Jr. Arlington County Virginia, A History. Baltimore, MD: Port City Press, Inc., 2009.
  2. Netherton, Nan and Ross Netherton. Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, VA: The Donning Company, 1987.
  3. Perry, Nancy, Spencer Crew, and Nigel M. Waters. “’We didn’t have any other place to live’: Residential Patterns in Segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Southeastern Geographer 53, no. 4 (2013): 403-427.
  4. Guild, June P. Black Laws of Virginia: A Summary of the Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes from the Earliest Times to the Present. New York, NY: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
  5. Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community: Leveling East Arlington to make way for the Pentagon.” Urban Geography 37, no. 1 (2015): 141-161.
  6. Perry et al.  “’We didn’t have any other place to live’, 403-427.
  7. Rose, Arlington County Virginia, A History; Perry, “Eminent domain destroys a community”; Morris, James M. “A Chink in the Armor: The Black-Led Struggle for School Desegregation in Arlington, Virginia and the End of Massive Resistance.” Journal of Policy History 13, (2013): 329-36.
  8. Perry et al.  “’We didn’t have any other place to live’, 403-427.
  9., accessed 1/29/2019,; Perry et al. “We didn’t have ny other place to live'”, 403-427.
  10. Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community: Leveling East Arlington to make way for the Pentagon.” Urban Geography 37, no. 1 (2015): 141-161.
  11. Perry, Nancy and Nigel M. Waters. “Southern suburb/northern city: Black entrepreneurship in segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Urban Geography 33, no. 5 (2012): 655-674; Boyd, Robert L. “Race, Labor Market Disadvantage, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Women in the Urban North during the Great Depression.” Sociological Forum, 15, (2000): 647-670.
  12. Perry, Nancy and Nigel M. Waters. “Southern suburb/northern city: Black entrepreneurship in segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Urban Geography 33, no. 5 (2012): 655-674.
  13. Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People: America’s Black Elite. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.; Ruble, Blair A. Washington U Street: A Biography. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.; Perry and Waters, “Southern suburb/northern city”, 655-674.
  14. Perry and Waters, “Southern suburb/northern city”, 655-674
  15., accessed 1/29/2019,
  16. Perry, Nancy, Lucy E. Reybold, and Nigel M. Waters. “’Everybody Was Looking for a Good Government Job’ Occupational Choice during Segregation in Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 4 (2014): 719-741; Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community”.
  17. Perry et al. “Everybody was Looking for a Good Government Job”: 719-741.
  18. Green, Constance M. 1967, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation’s Capital. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967; Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People: America’s Black Elite. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.
  19. Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People.





Western Loudoun and the Metropolitan Fringe

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Andrew Baker 

Each weekday afternoon Northern Virginia commuters leave their offices in the District and drive across the Roosevelt Bridge, up interstate 66, and onto Harry Byrd Highway (state route 7) west through Tysons Corner and into Loudoun County. After the first few turns they pass their commute traveling along well-worn lines—experiencing the metropolitan region as a succession of images from a car window. Succession suggests series; series suggests transitions from one place to another. As they journey daily from the city the mind assumes gradation even as it experiences a succession of plot by plot land uses and zoning decisions. This experience quietly answers questions few articulate.

When do the suburbs begin?

When you see the first car dealership in Tysons Corner.

When does the countryside begin?


When you see the first open fields without for-sale signs mentioning “development potential.”


Where does rural America begin?

When you see the first gas station advertising “clean bathrooms.”

This commuters’ catechism mediates between the urban planner’s categories and the messy particulars of the built environment as drivers experience it. These daily journeys from the city press concentric circles of metropolitan development deep into the mind. As a native and later historian of Loudoun County, Virginia, the experience of driving west on route 7 has likewise formed my understanding of this particular metropolitan landscape—Western Loudoun County—in ways that are often difficult to articulate.

Western Loudoun, like the Catskills and the San Fernando Valley, is both a part of the metropolis and a frequently prescribed antidote to it. It is economically dependent on metropolitan dollars even as its partisans use those dollars to defend it from metropolitan encroachment. Western Loudoun is an example of that wonderfully flexible category—the metropolitan fringe. Such a label is more concession than explanation. It identifies but does not define.

The best way to make sense of Western Loudoun is to join the commuter in experiencing images of place. Here, then, I offer a series of historical glimpses of its twentieth-century history. Each seed grew into a part of the complex ecology of this metropolitan fringe region—Washington’s backyard.


What is Western Loudoun County?

An anti-urban, metropolitan region defined by health, horses, hamlets, and homesteads.



As a traveler drives west from Washington into Loudoun they leave the tidewater, move through the piedmont (literally “foot of the mountains”), and enter the Blue Ridge within a space of sixty miles. Here a sleepy village lined with stone walls lies down a hair-pin turn just off route 7, right before crossing the Appalachian Trail.

From the 1880s to the 1920s, summer trains brought Washingtonians out of the heat and humidity of the lower Potomac River into Western Loudoun’s Blue Ridge foothills. With the extension of the Washington and Ohio Railroad line (later the Washington and Old Dominion) to Round Hill in May 1875, the travel time from the city dropped to only two hours. Families rented summer homes or took out rooms in newly opened boarding houses while husbands commuted to the city for the week’s business. By the 1890s Western Loudoun hamlets enjoyed a thriving summer tourist trade.

113 - BlueRidgeInnpm1910 - 1084
Friends of Bluemont, (accessed March 25, 2014)

The unfortunately named village of Snickersville was the most popular of these summer retreats. Visitors came to ramble over the mountain ridges and gaze down at the Shenandoah Valley to the west and distant Washington to the east. The price of these beautiful vistas was a four-mile carriage ride up poorly maintained country roads that jostled and rattled guests before depositing them in the sleepy mountain town. Enough people made the trip to keep three small hotels in operation by 1885. It was Jules De Monet, a prominent chef from D.C., who put Snickersville on the map when he opened the Blue Ridge Inn in 1893. His new hotel added a level of sophistication the small resort town had lacked. Sophistication was good for business. In 1900, when the railroad extended the line to Snickersville, the company took the liberty of dumping its ill-fitting label for the more bankable Bluemont.

During the height of summer six trains pulled into this station from Washington and Alexandria each day with up to twelve coaches full of summer residents and tourists. Sunday trains brought up to thirty people for afternoon dinner. Here urban professionals sipped tea, played croquet, and socialized with other members of their class. The more daring dabbled in the “strenuous life,” hiking to Bear’s Den or hunting quail and turkeys in the surrounding woodlands. Some vacationers purchased land and had private mountain cottages and second homes built along the hillside overlooking the town. For those who preferred a more modest home in town, Charles B. Turner, a local physician, offered lots for $100 each. There Washingtonians could turn a summer vacation into a year-round lifestyle by commuting to city jobs and living in the health and beauty of the mountainside.

205 - BearsDen2 - 1102
Friends of Bluemont, (accessed March 25, 2014)

This summer resort town was a regional affair. The beauty of Bluemont’s scenic vistas paled in comparison with what could be found further into the Blue Ridge. As the automobile redefined the American vacation in the 1920s, sublime mountains and lofty vistas lured tourists further west. The Great Depression forced most of western Loudoun’s struggling boarding houses and hotels to close down. The limited scale and short lifespan of this tourist industry, however, protected Loudoun from becoming another Luray Caverns or Gatlingburg, Tennessee. This left Bluemont to quietly transition into a village for Washingtonian commuters. Quaintness, historical charm, and seclusion, not bustling commercialism, would define these places as the county entered the postwar years. Such were the qualities that a new generation of Washingtonians would see from their cars as they drove around the countryside looking for an alternative to suburban sprawl. Those who chose such a life joined with locals to form the Bluemont Citizens Association (1955) and the Bluemont Fair (1969), a popular yearly celebration of the area’s rural heritage and history. Tourism made Western Loudoun.[1]

Middleburg Flower Show, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia, Frances Benjamin Johnston, April 1931, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


Traveling the same distance southwest from Washington along current day route 50 (Lee Jackson Memorial Highway), drivers enter the heart of the Virginia Piedmont that stretches from Middleburg down through Charlottesville. Lichen-encrusted stone walls replace wooden fences and red brick creeps from historic buildings, taking over sidewalks and and even daring the traffic as crosswalks. Motoring past the Red Fox Inn and Tavern, a sign for the Foxcroft school, and the Red Horse Tavern, it becomes clear that while Middleburg is not a themed town, it is certainly one with a peculiar identity. The imposing National Sporting Library and Museum anchoring the west end of town removes any doubt on this point.

Over the course of the twentieth century the American sporting set transformed these rolling hills into Hunt Country, an internationally known center of equestrian sports. Their social and economic ties bound the region to urban centers of the Northeast and, ultimately, to England. From November 1-15, 1905, Loudoun County and neighboring Fauquier County hosted the Great Hound Match. During the winter of 1904 and into 1905, Harry Worcester Smith and A. Henry Higginson, two Massachusetts sporting gentlemen, had bandied over the relative merits of English and American (largely southern-bred) foxhounds within the pages of Rider and Driver. Higginson challenged Smith to choose a time and place to settle the matter. Each man put up $1000 and selected a judge. The two judges selected a third. The first pack of hounds to kill a fox in the Loudoun countryside would be the winner. Journalists from the Boston Herald, the New York Herald, and London Daily News arrived to see the issue settled for good.[2]


W.P. Hulbert of Middleburg arriving with his guests for the annual cross country race for the Middleburg Hunt Cup. The 6th annual race held at Middleburg, Va., April 3, 1926, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The day before the match, gawking crowds greeted Higginson and his entourage of hounds, horses, and servants as they pulled up to the rail station at The Plains, five miles South of Middleburg. For the next two weeks anywhere from three dozen to over a hundred riders galloped off at dawn, following the hounds. They spent the day bounding across stone walls and pastures in pursuit of the fox. The riders included members of twenty-six registered hunts, a gathering the likes of which had never before been assembled this side of the Atlantic. Neither pack made a kill, leaving the judges to unanimously declare Smith’s American hounds the winners.

Horse show enthusiasts. Warrenton, Va. Perry Heath, Grand Rapids, Iowa, industrialists and assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Hoover, left, and Mrs. George Sloane and George Sloane of Middleburg, Va., and their daughter Miss Anne, photographed in the Sloane box of the Warrenton Horse Show, Harris and Ewing, October 12, 1935, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Such is the creation story of Northern Virginia hunt country. From the moment they stepped off the train northern journalists launched into romantic accounts of the countryside. In one of the more florid descriptions of the region to come out of the event, a journalist intoned

It is a beautiful hunting country. Twelve miles to the west, the Blue Ridge heaves up its rounded breast, mottled with woodland and cultivated fields. . . . Between the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains stretches away, twenty-five miles broad, a rolling country, free from stone and checkered with green fields of winter wheat, now in its tenderest hues, corn fields stacked with heavy harvest, and grass land taking on the sober garb of late autumn. Here and there the bronze of oak woods lends a splash of color, but there is little woodland and the fox, once routed from cover must run for his life.[3]

Soon after Smith announced in The Sportsmen’s Review that his desire was “to make Middleburg the fox-hunting center of America.” The quiet southern town was, Smith boasted, quickly becoming a place where gentlemen sportsmen would enjoy the finest of southern hospitality, fellowship with their social equals, and the thrill of the hunt. Virginia landowners opened their hunt country to the nation’s sporting class. The response was overwhelming. In the decades following the Great Hound Match, wealthy northerners bought up large tracts of land, turning the region into one of the wealthier rural areas in the South.[4]

Loudoun’s pastureland, stone walls, and farm cottages matched Anglo-American conceptions of the picturesque and the pastoral. Here, on this most British of American landscapes, Virginians pursued the fox. Hunt Country, buoyed through northern money and embracing the mystique of “Old Virginia,” became a staple of sporting magazines and society pages across the East Coast. Much of this hunt country mystique and culture survives in Middleburg to this day through the preservation efforts and cultural labors of area landowners and institutions like the National Sporting Library and Museum. Equestrian sports made Western Loudoun.


Catoctin Creek, 1974, Photo by John Lewis, from Loudoun Watershed Watch



Heading north from route 7 a few miles west of Leesburg, travelers enter the National Historic Landmark of Waterford, Virginia. Most tourists make it no farther than this restored Quaker village. Those willing to continue north for another five miles, roughly following the path of Catoctin Creek, past pastures and dirt roads, reach Taylorstown. Here the historic preservation is less forthright, but no less serious. An old stone mill and general store anchor a few dozen homes.

Its location along Catoctin Creek a few miles South of the Potomac River placed Taylorstown on the top of the Army Corps of Engineers’ list of potential reservoir development sites in 1974. Having failed for three decades to dam the Potomac River, the Corps looked to the creek as a consolation prize—a way to build in a few days of urban water supply into the river. If built, it would have inundated 8,500 acres and submerged the entire town, which, at that point, was 240 years old and had 70 residents.[5]

The battle to save Taylorstown followed many of the classic NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) tropes. These residents were both highly educated and well-connected. Within the group of 140 people that met to organize the Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance, there were lawyers, engineers, retired army and navy brass, a dean of the International School of Law, and a board member of the Interstate Commission of the Potomac River Basin. Residents had the financial resources to hire a top environmental law firm to represent them. A group of white, upper-middle-class professionals organized to defend their adopted landscapes from destruction. Yet the members of the Alliance expanded their arguments beyond these limits. They believed that the damming of Catoctin Creek was not just about the destruction of their property; it was an act of vandalism and a shameful violation. Damming Catoctin Creek would destroy what was, in their estimation, “one of the most historic villages in Loudoun County.”[6]

The alliance worked with local architectural historian John G. Lewis to document and publicize the architecture and genealogical record of each house that would be inundated.[7] Members held a “Don’t Dam Loudoun House Tour” to invite the public to bear witness to what might be lost. These efforts sought to stir their readers to feel the romance of historical renovation. These houses were, in the words of one article, the result of “ample portions of labor, research, and love.”[8] The meticulous process of reconstruction was almost as important as the genealogy and local history in convincing people that these homes were not the product of mass, industrialized construction. Each dwelling had its own conversion narrative. The benefactors found them mired in squalor and despair. They redeemed these homes from decay and, through their efforts, restored them to their former beauty. These were storied places whose history gave them dignity. Their loss would be the loss of that story.[9]

The Alliance buttressed these efforts with the variety of new preservation tools at their disposal. They secured passage of the Catoctin Creek Scenic Rivers Designation Bill in Richmond in March 1977.[10] They worked with county supervisors, Virginia Commission of Outdoor Recreation, and Virginia Historic Landmark Commission to secure historic district status from the state (the county had nine such districts by 1984).[11] Their local efforts, combined with the release of a May 1977 report by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments that challenged the need for the additional water storage, forced the Corps to abandon their plans in August 1979.[12] These preservationists protected their rural enclave from a piece of metropolitan infrastructure. Taylorstown endures as home to a mix of commuters and retirees, restored homes and horse farms, all surrounding an old stone flour mill. Historical Preservation made Western Loudoun.

Broad Run Farms

Before reaching any of these Western Loudoun destinations, commuters struggle through what is Eastern Loudoun—strip malls, housing developments, traffic lights (although not as many as there once were), and divided highways. For those willing to risk pulling off on the south shoulder of route 7 as it crosses Broad Run, a small tollhouse is visible twenty feet below along the old bridge. Just north of this local landmark Robert and Barbara Young launched what would become the first housing development in Eastern Loudoun.

BR toll house 1953.jpg
Broad Run Toll House at Rt. 7, 1953, Loudoun Planning Commission,

The Broad Run Farms subdivision was not the Young’s original plan when they purchased the 706-acre Miskel Farm in 1950. Robert had worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Senate and wanted to try his hand at dairy farming. Within a year they had abandoned the enterprise. It is hard to dabble in dairy farming. Instead the Youngs partnered with a Leesburg real estate man to subdivide their farm. The couple dug a lake along route 7 and began waving down any car that drove by and offering to show them around. Washingtonians had spent the day motoring along the county’s back roads, gazing out at the horses and cattle, soaking in the scenery, and admiring the hard-working country life of Loudoun farmers. Weekend excursions primed them to desire what the Youngs offered—low taxes, good schools, natural beauty, and recreation in the countryside.[13]

Broad Run Toll House at Rt. 7, 2019, Photo by Ronald F. Baker

By 1953 the Youngs had sold one hundred lots and had eighty houses under construction. The typical mixture of government workers, politicians, and retired military men took up residence in the moderately expensive neighborhood where lots ranged from a half an acre to ten acres.[14] Broad Run Farm’s success inspired imitators. By 1953 the county had approved more than dozen plans for small subdivisions in Eastern Loudoun.[15] By the 1990s, Broad Run Farms would be lost among a series of development projects: Algonkian, Countryside, Cascades, and Dulles Town Center. While it reflected many of the ideals of Western Loudoun, Broad Run Farms became the advance guard of the Eastern Loudoun that would threaten Western Loudoun over the next half a century.

Subdivisions made Eastern Loudoun. . . and therefore defined what Western Loudoun was not but was always in danger of becoming.


Commuters underwrote, consumed, restored, purchased, celebrated, farmed, developed, hunted, defended, and subdivided rural Loudoun County. As I have argued elsewhere, rural people were central actors in this process as well. Yet it was these newcomers who cultivated these fringe landscapes and then defended them. As the postwar period dawned, each group defined these landscapes, whether explicitly or implicitly, in opposition to the supposedly crass, mass-produced imitation lifestyle that was D.C.’s ever-encroaching suburbia. These gentrifiers squared off against development in their efforts to protect Loudoun’s countryside. The project of defending Western Loudoun from sprawl has been inseparable from landscape aesthetics. Preserving these largely private lands for the public good only makes sense to the extent that any resident can access and enjoy their beauty from the public rights of way. The Western Loudoun of health, horses, hamlets, and homesteads is a Loudoun the public sees and enjoys from a car window. It is a commuter’s paradise—a reminder that anyone with a car can drive out past the city and the suburbs and witness the countryside.

What is Western Loudoun?

Western Loudoun is a metropolitan landscape preserved, protected, and promoted as the countryside for anyone willing to look.


Baker 2018.jpgAndrew C. Baker is assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University-Commerce in Northeast Texas. His recent book Bulldozer Revolutions: A Rural History of the Metropolitan South examines the development of the metropolitan fringe outside Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas.

[1] Scheel, Loudoun Discovered, vol. 4 (Leesburg, VA: The Friends of Thomas Balch Library, 2002) and Jean Herron Smith, From Snickersville to Bluemont: the Biography and History of a Virginia Village, Evelyn Porterfield Johnson and Robert Hoffman, eds. (Bluemont, Va.: Bluemont Citizens’ Association, 2003), especially 144-53; Writers’ Program of the WPA, Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1940, 1941), 527.

[2] Martha Wolfe, The Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith, and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country (Lyons Press, 2015); Higginson’s scrapbooks from the event are housed at the National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM). Grafton-Middlesex Match, Piedmont Valley, Va., November 1905, Box 7, Alexander Henry Higginson Scrapbooks, 1899-1926.

[3] “Big Hound Match is On,” newspaper clipping, Match Scrapbook.

[4] The Sportsmen’s Review, 1906, 177-178, Folder 21, Box 1, Alexander Mackay-Smith Papers, NSLM.

[5] Piedmont Virginian, June 5, 1974, June 19, 1974, and October 2, 1974 and Washington Star-News Jun 9, 1974, each in Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance (CVDA), Manuscript Collection SC0011, Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Virginia

[6] In addition to this, the statement rehashed standard anti-dam arguments. They complained of the loss of county tax base, ecological destruction, and the ruining of open space and farm land. Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance, Official Statement, September 15, 1974, CVDA.

[7] John G. Lewis, “A General History of Taylorstown and the Catoctin Creek Valley from the Potomac to Waterford, Virginia,” August 26, 1974, CVDA.

[8] “Catoctin Valley Threatened by Dam,” Echoes of History, 4 (September 1974), 69-71.

[9] Ray Cheronis, “Foxton Cottage, Taylorstown, VA: A Miracle of Restoration and Reconstruction,” Folder 1, CVDA.

[10] John G. Lewis to Members of the Loudoun County Scenic Rivers Committee and the Goose Creek-Catoctin Creek Task Force, March 4, 1977, Lewis collection.

[11] Calder Loth, ed., The Virginia Landmarks Register, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 238-247.

[12] Washington Post, August 28, 1979.

[13] Scheel, Loudoun Discovered, vol. 1, Goin’ Down the Country, 123-127.

[14] For a example of Broad Run Farms settlers, see Jack Eisen, “New Airport and Suburbia Perk up Loudoun County,” March 21, 1960 and Berta Mikesell, “Formula for a Rich Life,” Folder 2, Box 5, Keep Loudoun Beautiful Collection, TBL.

[15] James Birchfield, “Rural-Urban Broad Run,” Virginia and the Virginia County (January, 1953), 23.

Uncle Sam and Black Arlington: Bringing Jobs but Taking Housing, 1861- 1945

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Lindsey Bestebreurtje

Arlington, Virginia, is a small county in northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Diverse neighborhoods checker the landscape, each bearing the styles of middle class suburbia as it evolved throughout the twentieth century, from Victorian to Craftsman and Bungalow on to Rambler and multi-family homes. The county has always had a unique relationship with the nation’s capital as work for the federal government has long shaped the life of Arlington’s residents.

Today, the federal government is one of the top employers of Arlingtonians. This pattern of employment began in the late-nineteenth century. Expansions of federal programs that emerged during the Civil War and Reconstruction continued into the twentieth century, as WWI, the New Deal, WWII, and the Cold War each increased the number, size, and scope of federal agencies. By 1940, more than half of the county’s employed adult residents worked for the federal government. This expansion provided work for Arlington natives and attracted individuals from around the country to the area, making it “the fastest growing county in America.”

The opportunity for federal employment extended to Arlington’s African American population. Since its founding, Arlington has had a small but stable black population. Through reform measures like the Pendleton Civil Service Act (1883) and the Ramspeck Act (1940), which made federal hiring based on merit and dismissal without cause illegal, African Americans in Arlington could rely on good federal jobs. Though not devoid of prejudice nor immune to legislative backsliding, the federal government provided stable, merit-based, well-paying blue- and white-collar employment to black Arlingtonians generations before that could be said throughout the nation. Arlington’s African American residents held diverse employment types ranging from custodial staff and chauffeurs to stenographers, librarians, and section chiefs.

The figure above shows the extreme disparity in African American (shown in black) and white (shown in grey) population growth. Arlington’s black community of approximately 7,000 residents, most of whom came from families with deep roots in the county, went from 38% of the total population is 1900 to only 5% by 1950. Today, Arlington is home to about 18,000 African Americans, up to 8.9% of the county’s population.

But employment was not the only way that the federal government impacted Arlington. A huge portion of the county is owned by federal institutions, which occupy 18% of the land in the county. The same government expansion that provided more work pushed federal installations such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Department of Agriculture’s Experimental Farm, the Navy Annex, Fort Myer, and the Pentagon into the county beginning in the nineteenth century.

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, Va. circa 1947, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The majority of these institutions were constructed in southern Arlington. Southern Arlington was home to almost all of Arlington’s African American communities, including Green Valley, Queen City, and Johnson’s Hill. Local black resident Vivian Bullock of Hall’s Hill called south side Arlington “the black side.” As a result, the physical encroachment of federal institutions in southern Arlington disproportionately affected Arlington’s black communities.

The story of Queen City highlights how federal expansion into Arlington had an especially negative impact on the county’s black neighborhoods. More than 200 working class families in Queen City lived in modest but well-kept frame houses. Generations of families grew in Queen City after its founding in 1892. Third generation Queen City resident William Vollin described his neighborhood as a “real happy, solid community.”

While Vollin saw a strong working class community, federal authorities surveying the area for a location for the War Department’s new Pentagon building saw something else entirely. Where residents saw a thriving community, outsiders saw the black neighborhood as a ghetto. The neighborhood was described as an “industrial slum” by developers. Federal authorities also looked down on the neighborhood. Construction supervisor Lieutenant Bob Furman said in a 1941 letter to the Civil Aeronautics Administration that the area consisted of “really, really rough shacks.” Queen City resident Gertrude Jeffress pushed back against this categorization. In a 2004 interview with author Steve Vogel, she insisted, “whoever said it was nothing but shacks, well that ain’t true. This was a nice little neighborhood.” But the powers that be believed the homes, churches, community institutions, and businesses within the neighborhood would mar the views from the Pentagon and should be demolished.

Queen CIty
The image above shows Queen City with the Pentagon in the background in early spring of 1942. Though modest, they are a far cry from the “shacks” many federal builders alleged made up Queen City. Within days the community was demolished. U.S. Army, Pentagon, April 1942.

And that is exactly what happened. In January of 1942 construction began on the Pentagon’s road networks, which ran through the community. Plans moved forward for construction without anyone informing the people of Queen City. In February of 1942, residents received word that they had to be out of their homes by March 1. Property was seized through a combination of eminent domain laws and modest payments to home owners.

This aerial photograph shows Shirley Highway I-395 snaking through Arlington County. This area was once home to the African American neighborhoods of East Arlington and Queen City.

Almost all of those who lost their homes were black. Where Queen City and neighboring East Arlington were demolished to make way for the Pentagon, Navy Annex, and related road construction, the nearby white neighborhood of Columbia Heights, which also bordered the projects, was left largely untouched.

Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. General view, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

After losing their homes residents were not sure where to go. Lt. Furman admitted that he and his men didn’t “think… much about their welfare” when removing residents from their homes. Relocation was especially onerous because there were so few homes. Arlington was experiencing a severe housing shortage thanks to the flood of wartime workers entering the area. This housing crisis was especially acute in the black community as residents were barred from many of Arlington’s neighborhoods due to residential segregation and restrictive covenants.

After losing their homes with almost no notice, few funds, and a shrinking housing stock, one of the primary options for these individuals was the federal government’s emergency housing. To help displaced residents avoid homelessness, the federal government created a trailer camp on mud flats at the outskirts of Green Valley. These trailer camps were constructed to serve only as temporary housing. Entire families, no matter their size, squeezed into trailers equipped with stoves for heat and cooking, convertible couch-beds meant to sleep four people, and no running water. The tight quarters, lack of proper sanitation, and mud created an unhealthy environment vulnerable to illness. The camp was also prone to flooding and attracted rats. Resident John Henderson remembered rats so large they could shake the floor boards as they passed.

Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. Interior of a single type trailer showing cooking facilities and couch which can be converted into a bed, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Despite the loss of Queen City, these individuals and families were able to tap into the strong social, religious, and fraternal networks that linked African American Arlingtonians across neighborhoods and, with such a stable African American population, across generations. Henderson recalled that “it was quite a trying time,” but “I think the love and association of people is what kept people together.” After the end of the war the trailers were removed. Many individuals and families moved in with local family, moved into other federal housing, or found homes in one of Arlington’s remaining black communities – Green Valley, Johnson’s Hill, or Hall’s Hill.

Due in large part to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program these three anchor black communities still remain today. Renamed Nauck, Arlington View, and High-View Park respectively, only time will tell if they will be able to stem the tide of continued gentrification and the new threat of Amazon’s HQ2.

Featured image (at top): Map of Alexandria County, formerly part of the District of Columbia, Gregor Noetzel and G.G. Boteler, 1907, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

Dr. Lindsey Bestebreurtje is a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She specializes in suburbanization, segregation, and the built environment. 

From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

Tenants Flyer
Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon


[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

Northern Virginia: From ‘Star Wars’ to Cloud Wars

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Tommy Shay Hill

To the extent that it enters the public eye at all, Northern Virginia appears to outsiders as a land of interstates, office parks, and civil war battlefields, where the frumpiness of Washington bureaucracy takes on southern baggage; a place epitomized by such landmarks as the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, and where grey mid-century office blocks front onto highways named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Its urban form is summed up by Tysons Corner, made infamous in the 1990s by the urbanist Joel Garreau as the archetypal “Edge City”: less a functioning community than a cautionary tale of the excesses of late twentieth century auto-dependent exurbia.

Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia
Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

It thus came as a surprise to some that Amazon would choose this place to bring 25,000 white collar jobs as part of its highly-publicized HQ2.[1] The company’s move to New York City seemed cliché; the move to Virginia, uninspiring. To those who live in the Washington area, Amazon’s chosen site straddling Arlington’s Crystal City and Alexandria’s Potomac Yards is a drab corporate landscape of aging office towers and big box stores. Like ‘Foggy Bottom’ five stops away on the Blue Line, ‘Crystal City’ is one of those place names that has become a joke among area residents. Simultaneously imposing and forgettable, the neighborhood’s slew of hulking concrete office towers – many of them carbon copies of one another – are exemplars of the monumental blandness of post-war Washington. Think Le Corbusier, but without the style.

Amazon’s arrival in Northern Virginia seems at odds with the mental image many outsiders have of the region’s major players: the Department of Defense, the security agencies, and the hundreds of independent contractors serving them – the back-of-house operations of the Deep State. And to a large degree this mental image is accurate: local developer Robert Smith built this collection of modernist-lite high rises in the 1960s and 1970s as cheap office space for government agencies and defense department staff.[2] It was in this otherwise unremarkable office cluster – and in a few others like it across the region – that Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program was waged. The region as a whole was effectively built by the Pentagon. Many of the largest structures in the area house Defense Department functions, and the housing tracts and high rises that dot the region can often be dated to some spurt of postwar defense spending.

Park Fairfax
Park Fairfax, built by MetLife in the early 1940s to house workers at the newly constructed Pentagon, photo by Thomas Hill

And yet, Amazon is no stranger to this world of intelligence and defense contracting. The company’s cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) has had a major presence in the region since 2006, and since 2013 has hosted all of the CIA’s web traffic in a purpose-built private cloud.[3] Follow Virginia Route 267 West past Tysons Corner out to Loudoun County and you’ll reach Ashburn, Virginia, where AWS operates 25 of the more than 70 data centers in this remote corner of the D.C. area.[4] This formerly agricultural community 45 minutes from Washington houses the world’s busiest intersection of fiber networks, making it the optimal point on the globe to store and exchange data.[5] In the open tracts and brownfields of this Northern Virginia exurb, an arms race is being fought once again: this one not for mastery of space, but for control of “the Cloud.”

Northern Virginia: The Internet’s Utility Closet

The region’s status as a tech hub has by now become banal to Northern Virginia natives. Parts of the region are so dense with underground fiber optic cables that a construction project in the area knocks one out from time to time, bringing down some portion of the web for a few hours and causing serious delays on the interstates radiating outwards from Washington.[6]

But the details always seem to shock out-of-towners. Loudoun County officials like to state that 70% of internet traffic in the world passes through data centers located here.[7] While it is difficult to evaluate this precise figure, Northern Virginia’s volume of data center space dwarfs the size of Silicon Valley, the next largest market.[8] The internet is a network of networks, and server farms in Loudoun County are the interface where those networks intersect. A huge portion of the internet’s many networks articulate with one another in the wires and servers of Northern Virginia’s dozens of faceless data centers.[9]

Military Modernism
Mark Center in Alexandria, headquarters of several DoD agencies, courtesy of U.S. Army

The history of the internet and the history of defense contracting are not as estranged as they might seem, and it is in the office parks, edge cities, and suburban downtowns of the Northern Virginia suburbs that these two stories cross. In his brilliant history of the region, Internet Alley, Paul E. Ceruzzi traces the origins of the internet to a series of Department of Defense contracts from the 1960s through the 1980s. These contracts went disproportionately to companies located in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, cementing a network of connections that built such edge cities as Tysons Corner and which solidified the region’s status as the center of the internet before any personal computer even had a dial-up connection. Like all media, the internet relies on physical infrastructure; like all infrastructural systems, the internet’s backbone of server farms and fiber optic cables has grown in a highly path-dependent way. MAE-East, the server farm established in an Ashburn parking garage in 1992 to allow the world’s fledgling online companies to connect, remains at the hub of the world’s internet traffic today. AOL moved its corporate headquarters to Ashburn in the 1990s in order to minimize distance to MAE-East, and soon enough all internet service providers were running their cables to this one spot.[10] Today more than 200 networks converge in Ashburn, which has come to be known in industry circles as “Data Center Alley.”[11]

As much as consumers may grumble about Amazon’s monopoly over the world’s e-commerce, its control of global internet traffic is by no means secure: the company is in the midst of one of the fiercest commercial battles of our times – an ongoing war with Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for control of the Cloud. The war for this ethereal medium is being waged in Ashburn and surrounding communities, where these four players are scrambling to buy up available space for new data centers.[12] These exurbs are experiencing an extraordinary building boom in new data center space, one that is straining the capacity of the local utility company – Dominion Power – to sustain it.[13] The cost of land in this secluded jurisdiction at the outer edge of the northeast corridor has nearly tripled in just the last two years, reaching over $1 million per acre at the end of 2018.[14]

What is driving this exploding demand for data center space? Many recent digital phenomena have enhanced the need for data center capacity: the widespread adoption of cloud computing by companies and individuals; the pervasive streaming of content; the Internet of Things; the prospect of 5G; and the exponential increase in data generated by our most everyday objects and activities.[15] The journalist Rich Miller has carefully tracked the drivers and dynamics of the data center industry on his excellent blog Data Center Frontier, and points to the coming ‘data tsunami’ generated by ‘machine-to-machine’ (m2m) communication as a phenomenon that will sustain continuously growing demand for data center capacity over the coming years.[16] While these phenomena are sure to transform economies and social relations around the world, their effects are felt most acutely in a single local real estate market: Northern Virginia.

C.I.A. Headquarters aerial
Aerial of C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

NoVA’s Security-Driven Building Booms

This is not the first time an exogenous series of events has sparked a building boom in the area. There are distinct parallels between the current upswing and the frantic construction of defense contracting space in the years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I have written elsewhere of the way in which the Defense Department’s massive increase in demand for space after 9/11 facilitated the growth of a new type of landlord in Northern Virginia – the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) – capable of issuing shares on stock exchanges to fund new development.

The early 2000s saw this new generation of real estate company buy out and out-compete the local developers that built Crystal City and Tysons Corner in the 1960s and 1970s.[17] With access to the public capital markets, REITs proved uniquely capable of financing and developing the hyper-protected, state-of-the-art garrison-campuses effectively required by the Department of Defense’s post-9/11 security requirements. The years after 9/11 witnessed the rapid proliferation of a new type of structure across the Northern Virginia landscape: the SCIF, or “sensitive compartmented information facility.” High-security SCIFs can cost upwards of $300 a square foot to build, relative to the $30 per square foot standard of conventional office space, and thus are prohibitive for small- and mid-sized firms to provide.[18]

The REIT Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) cornered the market for high-security defense contractor space early on, increasing its tenant revenue from defense and intelligence from roughly a quarter of its total revenues in 2002 to nearly half by 2004.[19] By 2010, 36 of the 50 largest Defense contractors were COPT tenants, most of them with multiple leases in place.[20]

Long a player behind the scenes in the War on Terror, COPT has quietly assumed center stage in the war for the cloud, becoming Amazon Web Services’ primary data center provider in Loudoun County.[21] The REIT’s experience in providing high-security spaces commensurate with Defense Department standards translates well to the market for data center space, and gives Amazon a distinct advantage on a major front of the Cloud War.

Art made of “code” named Kryptos sits on the grounds of the C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Over the past year, the continuity between Northern Virginia’s War on Terror boom years and the current data center upswing have come into relief: rumors have been circulating over a controversial Department of Defense cloud contract known as “JEDI” (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure). To be awarded in April 2019, JEDI consists of a single award of almost unheard-of proportions: worth as much as $10 billion over a ten-year time frame, the grantee will be tasked with building out the military’s entire digital infrastructure needs.[22] While it is hard to draw any direct connections, Amazon’s choice of a site for its HQ2 less than a mile from the Pentagon has analysts wondering whether the chance of snagging the JEDI contract is what lured Amazon to the site in the first place: the company has significantly intensified its lobbying activities in recent years.[23] A new HQ site in Crystal City would only enhance Amazon’s changes of securing JEDI.[24]

As Ingrid Burrington observes in her recent effort to map AWS’s data centers in Loudoun County, the company’s data center fortresses are as inaccessible and uninviting as any Defense Department stronghold.[25] Alongside the mutely imposing office towers of Crystal City and the indestructible concrete blockiness of SCIFs, the current wave of data center construction has added a new item to the region’s menagerie of blandness. Calling these structures Kafkaesque would imply something too sinister—these buildings are the architecture of anonymity, of a Big Brother that wants to be ignored.

The Economy of Security: Limits to Growth?

And yet, evading attention is becoming increasingly difficult in this rapidly growing region. Northern Virginia’s spectacular series of building booms since the 1960s has left little remaining open space for the fenced-off server farms or high-security office parks that are the region’s lifeblood, casting into stark relief the contradictions of an agglomeration economy based on classified activity. For all its abundance – of government contracts, advanced degrees, computing power – the region is starting to face an acute shortage of space. Data center providers in Ashburn are considering building up, constructing 2- or even 3-story data centers to accommodate the apparently limitless demand.[26] The region’s once-deadly office clusters are being remade as 24/7 lifestyle destinations: the REIT JBG Smith is giving all of Crystal City a new urbanist makeover. The moniker ‘edge city’ is hardly relevant anymore for Tysons Corner. In 2014, the district was sutured to the wider region by an extension of the D.C. Metro’s Silver Line, and much of the surrounding open space has long since filled in with new office buildings, shopping destinations, and residential high-rises. The housing market has felt a serious squeeze, with jurisdictions losing up to 90% of their affordable market-rate housing since 2000.[27]

But beyond its impact on the immediate region, the explosive growth of the IT industry in Northern Virginia points to an uncomfortable reality: the tech economy is highly geographically uneven, an unevenness explained as much by massive government contracts and pre-existing infrastructure as on individual cities’ abilities to lure the “creative class.” For all the talk of the internet’s flattening of space, the umbilical cord linking the digital economy to the military-industrial complex has yet to be cut, and the steady proliferation of social media, digitally-enabled devices, streaming, and cloud computing continues to pay dividends to the place where the internet was born over a generation ago. The cards were already stacked against the other 18 cities on Amazon’s shortlist for HQ2. Amazon’s announcement in November confirmed what many in the region already knew: Northern Virginia is ground zero in the war for the Cloud.

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in NoVA this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15, submit your panels everyone! 

Photo_TSHTommy Shay Hill is an urbanist, historian and data scientist currently pursuing a PhD in urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Tommy’s work is at the intersection of urban planning, critical geography, economic history, and computer science. Tommy’s dissertation research focuses on the challenges of developing a quantitative science of cities. Tommy is in the early stages of an empirical project to “spatialize” property development cycles through American history: to map the spatial evolution of American metropolitan regions since the Second World War through cycles of boom and bust.

Featured image (at top): Statue to William Donovan, director of the C.I.A predecessor agency, and a marker to the C.I.A’s fallen at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Langley, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

[1] Jonathan O’Connell and Robert McCartney. “Amazon HQ2 Decision: Amazon Splits Prize between Crystal City and New York.” The Washington Post. November 13, 2018.

[2] Shapiro, Matt Schudel and T. Rees. “Robert Smith, 81, Dies; Created Arlington’s Crystal City.” The Washington Post. December 31, 2009.

[3] Konkel, By Frank. “Sources: Amazon and CIA Ink Cloud Deal .” FCW. March 13, 2018. Accessed January 11, 2019.

[4] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018.

[5] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[6] Amy Gardner. “The One Fiber Optic Cable No One on the Dig for Tysons Corner Wants to Hit.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2009.

[7] Freed, Benjamin. “70 Percent of the World’s Web Traffic Flows Through Loudoun County.” The Washingtonian. September 14, 2016.

[8] Data Center Frontier. “Silicon Valley Data Center Market.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[9] Blum, Andrew. “The Bullseye of America’s Internet.” Gizmodo. Accessed January 10, 2019.

[10] Kanowitz, Stephanie. “How Data Centers Power Virginia’s Loudoun County.” GCN. Accessed January 9, 2019.

[11] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[12] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Demand: Home of the Data Center Hyperscalers.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 26, 2018.

[13] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018.

[14] Stoller, Bill. “Northern Virginia’s Already Tight Real Estate Market Just Got a Lot Tighter.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), October 1, 2018.

[15] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017.

[16] Miller, Rich. “Data Tonnage: Managing the Coming M2M Tsunami.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 28, 2018.

[17] Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008., pp. 126-134

[18] Dennis J. Lane of Ryan Commercial Real Estate Services, quoted in “U.S. government snaps up secure offices,” by David Dishneau, Associated Press. April 3, 2005.

[19] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Q4 2004 Corporate Office Properties Trust Earnings Conference Call.

[20] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Corporate Office Properties Trust 2010 Annual Report. p. 17

[21] Miller, Rich. “Amazon Plans Epic Data Center Expansion in Northern Virginia.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 6, 2017.

[22] Moss, Sebastian. “Amazon in Advanced Talks to Bring HQ2 to Northern Virginia.” Data Center Dynamics (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Reklaitis, Victor. “HQ2 in the D.C. Area Could Help Amazon Snag a $10 Billion Pentagon Contract.” MarketWatch (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019.

[25] Burrington, Ingrid. “Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country.” The Atlantic, January 8, 2016.

[26] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017.

[27] Whitehead, David. “Alexandria Has Lost 90% of Its Affordable Homes since 2000.” Accessed January 11, 2019.

The Capital’s Surveillance Shadow: A Northern Virginia Bibliography

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

In the 1987 thriller, No Way Out (NWO), Navy Commander Scott Farrell, played by the allegedly dreamy, inexplicable leading man of the era, Kevin Costner, finds himself embroiled in a murderous love triangle featuring a nefarious Secretary of Defense, David Brice (Gene Hackman) and a dizzy D.C. courtier, Susan Atwell (Sean Young). Being the late 1980s, healthy dollops of Cold War espionage are also mixed into plot, as are a few regrettable homophobic and misogynistic tropes.

Even Kevin Costner circa 1987 doesn’t understand his own appeal. From No Way Out

Yet, when one watches it today, the architecture of the capital and Northern Virginia stand out as much as the film’s dated social mores and loopy military/spy thriller vibe. NWO’s opening shot slowly trawls across the NOVA/DC landscape, capturing the usual suspects – The Pentagon, the Mount Vernon bike trail along the river, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, and so forth – before settling on the Arlington side of the river, staring, with an impending sense of foreboding, at the capital across the water.

Even a notorious sex scene in the film (scandalous for 1987 but pedestrian for 2019) functions as a tour of the city’s monuments as much as it is a testament to the button down freakiness of Washington D.C. diplomats, advisors and lobbyists. After all, who doesn’t gaze at the Lincoln Memorial and imagine limousine-aided carnal relations?

Despite the familiarity of the Washington Mall, Congress, and other D.C. federal institutions, the architecture of the security state located largely in Northern Virginia defines the movie’s conspiratorial narrative. All the Presidents Men (1976) schemed to achieve something similar; Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), evoked a similar sentiment more recently, albeit aided by a great deal of CGI.

In NWO, the Pentagon casts its imperial shadow across the metropolitan region while its workers, many from the NOVA suburbs, scurry about in its endless regimented corridors. The CIA’s Langley Headquarters surveys the intellectual community hidden amidst a sea of green. When trying to thwart actions by a rival in the government, Farrell speeds down Georgetown’s Whitehurst Freeway with the Key Bridge and the Key Bridge Marriot in the background, the latter located just across the river in Arlington where according to historian Andrew Friedman, author of Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Virginia, C.I.A. agents clandestinely rendezvoused, eating and drinking their fill all while planning various covert actions abroad.

Modern house in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Granted, it never reaches the level of California noir, but the idea and reality of clandestine meetings between elites and operatives was planted in the NOVA soil during the region’s post-World War II development. During the 1950s, Eleanor Dulles’s Maclean, VA bungalow served as a modern day foreign policy salon, “a kind of Round Table for Cold War Washington,” where elites like Allen and John Foster Dulles among numerous others lazed about the pool, drank martinis, and played games of touch football while endeavoring to covertly remake the world in America’s interest. Later, as the nation began wading into Southeast Asia, Edward G. Landsdale (think Alden Pyle from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American), a famed CIA operative in Vietnam, held “hootenannies” at his NOVA home in an effort to create cultural and personal bonds between Washington and Vietnamese elites.[1]

For Friedman, the expansion of the intelligence community in Northern Virginia transformed its human geography from rural farmers and large landholders to suburban CIA agents plying their trade amidst a cartography of pleasantly bland intrigue: a “covert capital” “hidden in plain sight,” which more accurately embodied “U.S. imperial management on the ground” in places like Vietnam, Iran, and Central America.[2] Transnational relationships between agents abroad and elites in these places later led to resettlement in the region, further altering NOVA’s demographics, though not every group that gravitated to the region found new footholds on equal terms.

The Vietnamese endured the residue of the Jim Crow South and U.S. resentment over military failure in Southeast Asia. Iranians, often better off and with ties to higher ranking intelligence officers, reestablished themselves in upper middle class suburbs. El Salvadorians, victims of America’s secret wars in Central America, arrived as almost invisible specters, working some of the hardest manual labor jobs in the region and ultimately existing in a “zone of illegality” often viewed as undocumented despite residing in the U.S. legally.

Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Each cast a cultural influence. Eden Center in Falls Church recreates the markets of Ho Chi Minh City while El Salvadorians transformed neighborhoods such as Alexandria’s Chirilagua neighborhood. Many Iranians slid easily into real estate development and other management positions, thereby contributing to the region’s physical transformation. And NOVA’s diversity extends beyond these examples. By the early 1990s, an observer traversing the halls of its public schools would hear nearly 50 languages spoken, including Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.[3]

Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Agents too brought remnants of their experiences abroad back with them, whether artifacts from Asia and Latin America as interior design or the imperial built environment they imported and embedded into the landscape. “The ephemeral newness and just-add-water domesticities frequently associated with the post-World War II suburbs, for transnational CIA families,” asserts Friedman, “became functional necessities, just as the neocolonial architecture seen as indigenous to these suburbs often played the double role of importing the comfort and style of colonial bungalows they inhabited abroad into their home environment.”[4]

The blandly conspiratorial Key Bridge Marriott, Peter Reft, July 2014

Yet, while the intelligence community undoubtedly shaped NOVA, so too did the vast military industrial complex that ballooned in the post World War II period. In part under the leadership of Vannevar Bush, operations research (OR)—or to oversimplify, scientific applications used to align weapons systems and other armaments in the field—became the economic coin of the realm. RAND might have pioneered efforts in OR from its Santa Monica location but as Paul Ceruzzi notes, “the armed services wanted scientists nearby, and they established counterparts to RAND located in the Washington region.”[5]

It helped that after World War II worries that the concentration of military/intelligence agencies in cities would leave national security vulnerable to nuclear attack led Truman to embrace “industrial dispersion,” a “quiet effort that operated largely below the political radar screen,” as historian Margaret O’Mara writes. Dispersion resulted in the militarization of suburbia and the suburbanization of science and coincided with mass suburbanization. Dispersion along with the government’s increasing support of science as a form of economic development transformed the federal government into an extremely powerful consumer of industry while simultaneously increasing its interest in locating contractors in metropolitan areas outside of densely populated cities.[6]

Highway construction followed nationally, and more specifically, in Northern Virginia. Of numerous plans in circulation, only the infamous Beltway was ever fully realized. Its completion laid the groundwork for the growth of Reston, Dulles Airport and the Dulles Corridor. Tysons Corner, positioned at Beltway interchanges for routes 123 and 7, made it a prime location for housing, retail complexes, and corporate offices. Other destinations also benefitted, such as Annandale, but none to the extent of Tysons Corner.[7] Indeed, over the past several decades Tysons Corner has grown exponentially and today even has a silver line metro stop, though the station sits in the middle of two large thoroughfares and the “edge city’s” walkability remains marginal at best.

Panorama aerial of Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the Cold War ramped up, the federal government created the National Science Foundation (NSF) and promoted the idea of science and tech research as economic development, or as O’Mara puts it, “city building.” The result has been the sort of “edge city” or “urbanized suburb” idealized by Joel Garrea, which has come to typify Northern Virginia.

Obvious parallels between Silicon Valley, Southern California’s aerospace industries, and NOVA exist. Today, Silicon Valley is seen as at the vanguard of the consumer electronics industry and social media, but it made its bones on federal contracts. Early on, Stanford’s Fredrick Terman, one of the individuals credited with laying the groundwork for today’s Silicon Valley, recognized that federal funds “served as seed money for industrial innovation.” Despite its long history of skepticism toward government and its promotion of free markets, Stanford (and others who established tech businesses in the Valley) quickly lined up at the trough of federal defense spending.[8]

Not to be outdone, Southern California, which historian Lisa McGirr argues is the birthplace of modern conservatism, also welcomed federal dollars for its aerospace industries, many of which relocated to or established offices in NOVA during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s: Computer Science Corporation (CSC), Science Applications International Corporations (SAIC), California Analysis Center Incorporated (CACI), DynCorp, and RAND, among others. Reagan’s SDI program brought these industries to a fever pitch by the mid 1980s, only to be consolidated under a handful of corporations later during the 1990s and 2000s.

Though not completely analogous, Silicon Valley had Stanford and the Stanford Research Park, while NOVA has George Mason University—which, behind the leadership of George Johnson in the late 1970s and early 1980s, oriented many of its programs toward OR and systems analysis. However, unlike Stanford, which pioneered this sort or relationship and created the model, GMU reacted to local firms, or, as Ceruzzi writes, “it is an effect, not a cause of the booming economy.”[9]

Modern office building in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For all its benefits, NOVA also lacks the kind of entrepreneurial venture capitalists that scour its Northern California counterpart. For better or worse, the government remains the primary consumer of the kinds of products and services produced by NOVA firms. Finally, building an industry around military policy makers, in which they serve as the conduit for development, results in a much different working culture. In Silicon Valley, “it is always the engineer, the programmer, even the computer hacker, who ranks at the top, even if he or she may not be the CEO of the company or necessarily have gotten rich from his or her efforts,” notes Ceruzzi.[10] Admittedly, in the decade since Ceruzzi published Internet Alley: High Technology in Tyson’s Corner, 1945-2005, figures like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey have dominated the narrative around the Valley in a fashion that seems more hierarchical than he asserts in his 2008 work, but his point remains salient.

Of course, the growth of defense industry companies such as Raytheon and the government’s emphasis on science research only partially explains the region’s development. If not for John “Til” Hazel and his partner Milton Peterson, Northern Virginia might look very different.

Described by journalist Joel Garreau in his flawed but influential work Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Hazel was both “legal sledgehammer” and “John the Baptist of Development.”[11] According to Garreau, only Pierre L’Enfant, the French designer of the capital, had “done more to shape the Washington area.” Hazel rejected affordable housing, depicted environmentalists as irrational, and viewed unfettered development as the holy grail of suburbanization. “If he brought no little arrogance to his vision, it was because he was creating no less than a new world,” writes Garraeu, “He was bringing civilization to the ‘howling wilderness’ … He was bringing it the benefits of modernity….”[12]

Tysons Corner Center shopping mall, Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Opponents like Audrey Moore and the slow growth movement she represented blunted some of Hazel’s efforts, but the Northern Virginia developer rode roughshod over the region for decades until his efforts to transform the Civil War battlefield site of Bull Run into a suburban shopping mall ran into a buzzsaw of well positioned resistance.[13] Ironically the military’s history and not the development of its future capabilities was what ultimately blunted NOVA’s suburbanization.

What has all this meant for the state of Virginia? By 1999, Fairfax County contained 14 percent of the state’s population and provided nearly a quarter of its tax revenue. Depending on the study consulted, and whether Arlington County and the City of Alexandria are included in the equation, the percentage of revenue to the state climbs to nearly 50 percent.[14] In 2008, NOVA accounted for one third of the state’s nearly 22 million residents, half of its economic development, and nearly the same in tax revenue, but only received back between 25 and 40 percent in cash and state services. “They treat us like the Bank of Fairfax,” said one county official at the time. Politically, over the course of the past two decades NOVA single-handedly transformed Virginia from red state to purple to blue. During the 2008 presidential campaign an advisor to the late John McCain told MSNBC that NOVA wasn’t “real Virginia.” The cognitive dissonance between Northern Virginia and its southern counterparts in Richmond led to a Washingtonian article that same year titled simply, “Will Northern Virginia become the 51st State?”

With changes afoot related to the arrival of half of Amazon’s HQ2 project, Northern Virginia remains far from static. Jeff Bezos’ online behemoth promises that the region’s growth will continue apace, perhaps in ways less dependent on the government—though contractors across the region whisper conspiratorially about the company’s alleged foray into federal contracting. Not exactly the stuff of late-1980s Kevin Costner spy thrillers, but, for good and for ill, compelling nonetheless.

Below you’ll find our usual attempts to craft a bibliography on the region. We’d like to extend special thanks to Krystyn Moon, Tommy Hill, and Lindsey Bestebreurtje for their expertise in building the bibliography; their efforts were immensely helpful. As always, we know we’ve probably missed something. If so, let us know in the comments!

Aerial view with a focus on Francis Scott Key Bridge between Northern Virginia and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


Banham, Russ. The Fight for Fairfax: A Struggle for a Great American County. Virginia: GMU Presses, 2009.

Baker, Andrew. “Metropolitan Growth Along the Nation’s River: Power, Waste, and Environmental Politics in a Northern Virginia County, 1943-1971.” Journal of Urban History, 23, No. 5 (2015): 703-119.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “Built By the People Themselves: African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia from Civil War to Civil Rights.” PhD Diss., George Mason University, 2017.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “A View from Hall’s Hill: African-American Community Development in Arlington.” Arlington Historical Magazine 15, No. 3 (Oct. 2015): 19-34.

Bunch-Lyone, Beverly and Nakeina Douglas. “The Falls Church Colored Citizens Protective League and the Establishment of Virginia’s First Rural Branch of the NAACP.” In Verney, et. al. Long is the Way and Hard: One Hundred Years of the NAACP. Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2009.

Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

Chacko, Elizabeth, and Ivan Cheung. “The Formation of Contemporary Ethnic Enclaves: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.” In Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, 2nd ed., edited by John W. Frazier, Eugene L. Tettey-Fio, and Norah F. Henry, 129-41. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Chacko, Elizabeth. “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area.” Journal of Cultural Geography 20, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2003): 21-42.

———. “Identity and Assimilation among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington.” Geographical Review 93, no. 4 (October 2003): 491-506.

———. “Washington, D.C.: From Biracial City to Multiethnic Gateway.” In Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities, edited by Marie Price and Lisa Benton-Short, 203-25. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

———. “Ethiopian Taxicab Drivers: Forming an Occupational Niche in the US Capital.” African and Black Diaspora: An Internal Journal 9, no. 2 (July 2016): 200-13.

Aerial view of Northern Virginia in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Friedman, Andrew. Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

Friedman, Samantha, Audrey Singer, Marie Price, and Ivan Cheung. “Race, Immigrants, and Residence: A New Racial Geography of Washington, D.C.” Geographical Review 95, no. 2 (April 2005): 210-30.

Gordon, Douglas. “Arlington Rebuilds a Community and its Roots.” Architecture + Design in the Mid-Atlantic 23, no. 4 (2012):18-28.

Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1995.

Hill, Thomas. “The Securitization of Security: Reorganization of Land, Military, and the State in the Pentagon’s Backyard.” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 1: 75-92.

Kaye, Anthony E. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Meyers, Jessica. “Pho and Apple Pie: Eden Center as a Representation of Vietnamese American Ethnic Identity in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, 1975-2005.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9, no. 1 (2006): 55-85.

Moon, Krystyn R. “The African American Housing Crisis in Alexandria, Virginia, 1930s-1960s.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 124, no. 1: 28-68

Wolf Trap Concert Hall in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

———. “The Alexandria YWCA, Race, and Urban (and Ethnic) Revival: The Scottish Christmas Walk, 1960s-1970s,” Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. 4 (Summer 2016): 59-92.

Morris, James McGrath. “A Chink in the Armor: The Black-Led Struggle for School Desegregation in Arlington, Virginia, and the End of Massive Resistance.” Journal of Policy History 13, no. 3 (2001): 329-366.

Perry, Nancy. “The Influence of Geography on the Lives of African American Residents of Arlington County, Virginia, during Segregation.” PhD diss., 2013.

Nancy, Perry. “Everybody was Looking for a Good Government Job”: Occupational Choice during Segregation in Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 4 (March 2014): 719-741.

Perry, Nancy, Spencer Crew, Nigel M. Waters. “‘We didn’t have any other place to live’: Residential Patterns in Segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Southern Geographer 53, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 403-427

Petrozziello, Allison J. “Feminised Financial Flowers: How Gender Affects Remittances in Honduran-US Transnational Families.” Gender and Development 19, no. 1 (2011): 53-67.

Posey, Zakia L. “Oromo Transnationalism in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area: An Examination of the Development, Challenge, and Prospects of Gaining an Institutional Footing.” PhD diss., Michigan State University, 2014.

Price, Marie. “Placing Transnational Migration: The Sociospatial Networks of Bolivians in the United States,” 209-219. Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America. Edited by John Frazier. Binghamton University Publishing, 2006.

Price, Marie and Elizabeth Chacko. “Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs in a New Immigrant Way.” Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 7, no.3 (2009): 328-346.

Repak, Terry A. Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

 Reston Town Center: Downtown for the 21st Century. Ed. Alan Ward, 1st edition. Washington, D.C.: Academy Press, 2006.

Schrag, Zachary M. “The Freeway Fight in Washington D.C.: The Three Sisters Bridge in Three Administrations.” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 5 (2004): 648-673.

———. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Vogel, Steve. The Pentagon: A History – The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon, and to Restore it Sixty Years Later. New York: Random House, 2007.

Wilson, Jill H., and Shelly Habecker. “The Lure of the Capital City: An Anthro-Geographical Analysis of Recent African Immigration to Washington, DC.” Population Space & Place 14, no. 5 (September-October 2008): 433-48.

Wood, Joseph. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia.” Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (January 1, 1997): 58–72.

Aerial view of high-rise neighborhood in Arlington’s fast-growing Rosslyn, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Primary Sources (oral histories, online exhibits, etc)

Bearinger, David. “From Bolivia to Virginia: Interview with Emma Violand-Sanchez.” Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Accessed December 14, 2016 (

Lindsey Bestebreurtje, “Built By the People Themselves.” (

“Echos of Little Saigon.” (

“The Gray: Isaac Schwarz.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City. Accessed November 14, 2015.

Iacobelli, Amanda. “German and German-Jewish Immigrants: Michael German, Lewis Baar, David Bendheim, Max Pretzfelder, J.H Gerhard, and Henry and Isaac Schwarz” (2006).

Immigrant Alexandra Oral History Project. ( .

“Life Across the River.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, Accessed November 14, 2015.

Featured image (at top): Panorama aerial of Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[1] Friedman, Covert Capital, 35-38, 150-152.

[2] Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013), 32.

[3] Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, (New York: Random House, 1991), 353.

[4] Friedman, Covert Capital, 90

[5] Paul E. Ceruzzi, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 23.

[6] Margaret O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 29, 34.

[7] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 63.

[8] O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge, 109.

[9] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 123-125, 15-16.

[10] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 92, 15

[11] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 382.

[12] Garreau, Edge City, 351, 383

[13] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 351, 390-391, 396, 404.

[14] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 119-120.

Previewing Our February Metro of the Month: Northern Virginia

If you find yourself in Northern Virginia and you feel a burgeoning hunger in your belly, you won’t find many better spots for Korean and Vietnamese food. Swing down to Annandale for the former (maybe check out Honey Pig) and over to Falls Church for the latter, where Eden Center has numerous sumptuous options.

The shadow of the Pentagon (Arlington), C.I.A. Headquarters (Langley), and D.C.’s bureaucratic architecture often obscures the fact that while government and defense industry employment have made NOVA one of the nation’s largest suburban economies, the area also draws critical entrepreneurs, laborers, and restaurateurs from around the world, and in particular from Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Iran.

The point, I suppose, is that NOVA has more local color than the bland tones of federal bureaucracy suggest (and that observers often accord it). With the 2019 SACRPH conference taking place in Crystal City this fall (from October 31-November 3; see the CFP here and submit proposals by March 15), NOVA will be our first Metro of the Month (MotM) for 2019, in part to encourage our fellow urbanists to consider attending the conference.

To its credit, The Metropole has waded into NOVA territory before and in an effort to whet your appetite for our forthcoming MotM, we’ve summarized two previous articles on the region below–replete with links to the full piece. Check them out and then come back Monday when we kick off our February Metropolis of the Month: Northern Virginia!

Eden Center, Northern Virginia, 2014

“Capital within a Capital: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

Published as part of our MotM on Ho Chi Minh City, The Metropole explored how the Vietnam War created transnational connections between South Vietnamese officials and soldiers and American policy makers in NOVA. Drawing from work by Andrew Friedman, Lisa Lowe, and others, the article examined how Vietnamese resettlement challenged binary ideas of race while also enabling South Vietnamese refugees to establish a foothold in NOVA and create a space for cultural expression.

Home in Hollin Hills, April 2017

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

Though today images of suburban Northern Virginia litter movies like 1987’s No Way Out and are recreated by television series such as The Americans (the show wasn’t actually filmed in NOVA), it’s worth remembering that much of this development took place after World War II in relation to the growth of government–particularly the defense and intelligence industries. The white-collar bureaucrats that staffed these new positions needed homes, and some demanded more than large-scale subdivisions that ignored environmental factors. Enter architect Charles Goodman and his modernist enclave of Hollin Hills, a neighborhood evocative of the modernist architecture made famous by California. Though largely understudied, the community has influenced modern day media; the aesthetics of the television show Mad Men is just one example. In addition to the historical context it provides, the photo-rich article also doubles as a home tour so that you can get up close without leaving your seat.

Featured image (at top): Aerial view of Northern Virginia, across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress