Protest over Road-Widening Through Black Community Echoes Events of 1967Breaking News
tags: African American history, urban history, highways
When plans for a highway-widening project in Fairfax County shifted and encroached into a historic African American community, residents of Gum Springs were ready.
They had protected their small enclave — one of the oldest Black suburban neighborhoods in the country — for nearly two centuries from unfair housing practices and developers who coveted their neighborhood, which lies within the Hybla Valley area, south of Alexandria.
Residents called up the same Black family that has operated a funeral parlor for decades, asking them to lend a casket as they did in 1967. The people of Gum Springs and other nearby neighborhoods marched to the bustling intersection of Richmond Highway and Sherwood Hall Lane, part of a battle that has forced transportation planners to return to the drawing board.
With the sleek, black casket rolled on wheels, the group last week marched into the crosswalk to send a message: Roughly doubling the number of lanes on Richmond Highway to 13 through Gum Springs would endanger the lives of residents who walk or bike to get around. The county’s population has nearly tripled since a casket was last called upon to symbolize frustration over the highway, but residents said inspiration for the sequel was fueled by that protest from 54 years earlier.
“This is where we live, and if you don’t think it’s important, we surely do,” said Ron Chase, 70, who is director of the Gum Springs Historical Society. He was a teenager during his first march along Richmond Highway to protest the road’s conditions.
The proposed project, residents say, would eat up the buffer between their neighborhood and Richmond Highway, create a more dangerous crossing for pedestrians and, through an accompanying project, encourage crime by digging an underpass into the neighborhood. Transportation officials say the plans are being reviewed and could change to reflect the needs of the community.
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