ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — In 2018, Arlington native Wilma Jones published a book about the neighborhood she grew up in. My Halls Hill Family: More Than a Neighborhood details the evolution of a community of freed slaves, which was founded after the Civil War. With the permission of Arlington County, the neighborhood was forcefully segregated for more than half of the 20th century with a stone wall, part of which still stands today.
“I was the happiest little kid. When I went to integrated schools at 7-years-old I didn’t feel like I was poor. I didn’t feel like there was anything that I wanted because I was loved,” Jones said.
Jones, a fourth-generation Halls Hill resident, watched her neighborhood gentrify in the early 2000’s. In the 1800’s, Halls Hill was 100 percent Black. Today, it’s 22 percent Black. Jones says her family members were surprised that her parents agreed to be interviewed for her book. Her great grandmother, for example, says she was taken advantage of by a white man, her great grandfather. His identity is unknown.
“When I tell people that my grandfather was a slave for the first seven years of his life… this is 2020. And that’s real,” said Jones. “And so I think this is just a little teeny piece of my effort to try to bring those stories out. And it’s time to take the band-aid off and acknowledge what Arlington really is from a Black perspective.”
That Black perspective is moving from book pages to television screens. Jones and Arlington Independent Media (AIM), a nonprofit organization, are launching a multi-part series called UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington. AIM exists to make multimedia technology and training available to amplify community members’ voices.
Director of Community Programs Jackie Steven approached Jones with the idea. “We give people the tools and the distribution outlets and they bring the content,” she said. Jones will choose the subject material and speak to guests over Zoom (to mitigate the risk of spreading the coronavirus) and AIM will edit and air the episodes.
“So much of our history is told by the people in power; by the winners, for instance,” said Lynn Borton, president of Arlington Independent Media’s board. “To have an opportunity to tell stories from perspectives that might not otherwise be heard is really important and is exactly what we’re here to make possible.”
Steven says the premiere will air mid-September. Episodes will include stories about the Green Valley neighborhood: Arlington’s first Black neighborhood of displaced, freed slaves; the Negro recreation division, which ran from in 1948 to 1962; interviews with some of the Black students who integrated Arlington’s schools, and the Negro baseball teams that played across Northern Virginia.
“The goal for the book was to get the stories out so they outlive me and the other people who are the folks left from Halls Hill and I thought a show with Arlington Independent Media would take that to the next level,” Jones said.