Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpLots of historic change unfolding in Arlington’s Nauck neighborhood, most of it witnessed up-close over six decades by Leonard “Doc” Muse.

January a year ago the County Board honored Muse – the seven-day-a-week proprietor of the Green Valley Pharmacy since 1952 – with an historic designation. This November, it held a ceremony to install a marker for a new historic district, describing his workaday site as “the county’s longest continuously operating African American-owned pharmacy.”

Muse’s shop looks out on the coming grant-funded public art project on the square of the historically black neighborhood at Shirlington Road and South 24th.

Muse, age 91, is hard to get a hold of owing to his work schedule. But when I popped in a few months back with visitors from the D.C. Historical Society, he emerged to greet us. We noticed the free bread that his pharmacy offers customers and needy passers-by. “We have bread whenever a truck drops it off, from different companies,” he told me recently.

Born in Del Ray Beach, Fla., Muse came to Washington in 1944 to study pharmacy at Howard University. With classmate Waverly Jones in 1952, he opened the store to serve blacks who because of segregation had little access to prescription drug stores such as People’s (at least not through the front door). They took over the building that had been Hyman’s Grocery.

“Green Valley served both black and white customers,” the historic designation reads, “and it was especially popular for its dine-in food counter, where breakfast, lunch, dinner and an abundance of ice cream desserts were served. In the early days, an order of two hot dogs cost just 25 cents.”

The route was not all romantic. Many blacks assumed his products were inferior. As desegregation in Arlington eased, drug dealers drifted in. Muse told Washington Post reporter Patricia Sullivan that police suspected him of being in cahoots, wiretapping his pharmacy even though Muse never hesitated to summon police. To avoid suspicions he was selling alcohol to teens or unauthorized medicine to addicts, he stocked such products behind the counter. At one point, violence prompted him to keep a gun.

These days, Muse dons his white coat and works 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with an hour off Sundays, working alongside his pharmacist granddaughter. He paid little attention to the recent fanfare – all the testimony from neighbors celebrating his quiet contributions.

The ceremony unveiling the plaque drew family and customers along with community members and civic leaders, among them the head of the Arlington Chapter NAACP, the assistant dean of today’s Howard College of Pharmacy and Nauck Civic Association president Alfred Taylor Jr. “We can’t forget to honor the bridge-builders,” Taylor said. “This once-neglected community is now one of our most diversified. And Doc was a role model for kids who aspire to higher education.”

Nauck itself, however, doesn’t stay still. This month the County Board will make a final decision on a developer’s proposal to raze the George Washington Carver Homes on South Rolfe, the last remaining homes built for African-Americans who lost out when the Pentagon went up in the early 1940s.

Muse told me he was honored by the historic designation of his shop, but honestly, he said, “I haven’t seen any difference yet. I’m waiting for Nauck’s clientele to change, banking on more affluent customers, of more races.”

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