Thomas J. Roberts lives in a small, affluent section of Landover Hills in Prince George's County. The 69-year-old Roberts is a retired Postal Service employee and is now a co-owner of a chemical company.
To look at the gaunt, fair-skinned Roberts, one might not think he is black - but he is. So is the community just off Route 50 in which he lives.
In 1957, five days after Roberts and his family moved into the community, the Maryland Department of Transportation told them there had been a mistake when the building permit was issued for their house and that the highway department was going to have to tear down the house.
Roberts fought the state then and won. Now, the Maryland Department of Transportation has a plan to extend East-West Highway from the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to Route 50. If the plan goes through, a number of homes in Roberts' community may have to be leveled, a state transportation spokesman said.
"We are really pioneers in this area," said Roberts' neighbor Jerome Brown, who explained that blacks in that section of Landover Hills bought their property and built homes in the 1950s when the land was cheap and undesirable.
Roberts and his neighbors had to endure the violent forms of the racism of the late 1950s and early '60s - racial insults and rocks and bottles thrown from passing cars.
Even before his ranch-style home was completed, Roberts said, a white construction worker became so out-raged when he discovered that he was building a house for a black family that he drove a buldozer through one of the house's brick walls.
But Roberts, unlike his neighbors, says he is tired of fighting. "I don't care anymore. I'm too old to fight. I will probably sell," he said.
If his home has to go, Roberts said, he and his wife will probably move into a house he has built in Spain where he looks up at "rolling mountians" through the front windows and perrs out at the Mediterranean Sea through the rear windows.
With a Mercedes Benz parked in his garage, Roberts as well as his neighbors - who are affluent educators, lawyers and public administrators - stand as a sharp contrast to most other black neighborhoods in the county.
County planners say there are only a handful of black communities where homes range up in the $100,000 price range.
They point to 1970 U.S. Census figures that show only 577 Prince George's County blacks living in census tracts with 400 or more blacks in the population owned homes valued at $35,000 or more.
And although housing costs have skyrocketed and the county population has dramatically changed since 1970, these planners still say the size of lots and the quality of the homes in this small section of Landover Hills are rare for county blacks.
The neighborhood of expensive ranch-styled homes, situated in forests of pipe, maple, and dogwood trees, has been pretty peaceful since the racial conflicts died down a few years ago.
The black residents of the community have become so content with the neighborhood that a few years ago, when a builder tried to buy approximately four acres of land behind them to construct a complex of garden-style apartments, they took him to court and forced him to construct a townhouse complex.
But recently the rumors of the East-West Highway expansion have worried the people living along this small section of Ardmore-Ardwick Road.
And although the state transportation people say the construction is at least five years off, residents are already talking about fighting any attempt to level their homes.
"Sure we are going to fight it. We have fought any attempt to destroy our neighborhood in the past," said one resident who declined to be quoted by name.
Mrs. Isaac Banks, who says she is in her 50s-to-60s and works for the D.C. public school system, said, "It would be terrible if they came in and destroyed my home."
"Even five years from now, I won't let them take my home."
She told how she and her husband, who died less than two years after their home was built, had always dreamed about owning a home.
"My husband put too much work into this house for me to even think of letting it go without a fight."
Maryland State transportation District Engineer Slade Caltrider said that the small black community had inadvertently become the target of the road extention plan, which was conceived more than 20 years ago.
Caltrider cited "very preliminary" figures when he said that as many as 40 homes might have to be leveled if the road plan is carried out.
Caltrider said that his agency does not sweep down and take homes without letting the people know before-hand "as we might have done 10 years ago."
"We will have public hearings and we will take notes on citizen concerns and use them in our decisions," Caltrider said.
"I strongly suspect that the state will not give me fair market value for my property," said Benjamin L. Hutton, a 57-year-old Army Reserve general.
Hutton has lived in the nighborhood for 14 years in a three bedroom house he build, which his wife says is valued at more than $100,000.
According th Hutton, anyone who thinks he can wait until the state transportation department makes its decision before fighting, probably also believes "a woman can be only slightly pregnant."