The NAACP was founded in 1909 by a multiracial coalition of Blacks, Jews, and other whites, I’m reminded by Julius “J.D.” Spain Sr., president of the Arlington branch, that over the past year the organization has exploded in visibility.
That’s one reason Spain wants to “get rid of the perception that it’s all about folks” as the advocacy group takes on “structural racism” at the local level at a time of national tensions with police and a merciless pandemic that’s especially tough on people of color.
Arlington’s NAACP weighed in on the impact of last May’s George Floyd killing in Minneapolis — on police policy as well as unfortunate language used in November as a mnemonic by an H.B. Woodlawn teacher (still on administrative leave pending an investigation, I confirmed). It is working in schools in partnership with Challenging Racism and Black Parents of Arlington, and partnering with church groups on anti-racism cultural events.
And the branch in November succeeded in persuading the county to reconsider its use of the Arlington House plantation logo in official business.
Spain, a 26-year Marine veteran and now an intel consultant telecommuting from his home in the Penrose neighborhood, is pleased to report that paid membership has risen from 200 when he was elected in 2018 to 707 this month.
Though current events inspired many joiners, Spain can also point to the “unique skill set” he brings to “mission objectives” from a career that included combat in Iraq, diplomacy in Europe and legislative affairs on Capitol Hill. The South Carolina native is an “institutionalist” who believes in a disciplined policy process. That inclines him to ease away from the “perception” that the NAACP is a Democratic Party adjunct.
Though a southerner comfortable with Arlington’s diversity, Spain — whose wife is Mexican — still sees things “through the lens of discrimination.” He worries that gentrification debates risk leaving many minority group members late for a “seat at the table.”
The NAACP was especially vocal in criticizing the Arlington Police Department for the December episode in which a Black real estate photographer at a client’s home outside of Fort Myer-Henderson Hall was reported as “suspicious” by neighbors. The professional was questioned and asked for I.D. by officers in five squad cars outside a gate packed with security cameras.
Marlon Crutchfield “was racially profiled,” Spain said, adding that he is not satisfied with the department’s subsequent denial of any mishandling, and the branch has filed with the state of Virginia for internal documents on the incident. “What about de-escalation tactics?” he asks. “Police should be mindful of the pulse of the country.”
Yet overall, the NAACP retains “utmost trust and confidence in the police,” Spain said, hoping they can be “reimagined,” not defunded.
I asked Spain whether the notion that the Arlington House logo is offensive because of past slavery there leads to a push to rename the county itself.
“We have a dark past history,” he said. But the NAACP branch, whose members recently heard a National Park Service presentation on the newly modernized (but closed during the pandemic) exhibit on slavery at Arlington House, is deferring to County Manager Mark Schwartz’s long-term community engagement process for considering an array of local renamings. “There is no one perfect answer” on what will be done, Spain said. And yes, renaming the county itself would be “a heavy lift.”
Some “firsts” in Arlington, culled from my history books.
The first private telephone line was installed in what is now the Knights of Columbus headquarters, installed in 1894 by inventor and educator George Saegmuller.
The county’s first cement sidewalk was laid outside the pharmacy opened in 1905 at N. Glebe and Wilson Blvd., by county medical examiner Williamson Welburn.
The first residential indoor plumbing and electricity were enjoyed by developer Frank Lyon, who in 1907 built them into Lyonhurst (now the Catholic order Missionhurst CICM), in the woods off Old Dominion Dr. at N. 25th St.