To most people, the Pentagon is a symbol of the United States military, a landmark, a sign that this is the nation's capital.
But to Dorothy Rich and Ruth Shanklin, Gertrude Jeffress and Jeanette "Pinky" Ford, it is the building that gobbled up the land where their houses once sat. When most of them were just girls, construction of the Pentagon, which was finished in 1942, forced their families to move into terrible, cramped trailers a couple miles down the road.
"They sent out notices to us and they told us we would have to move and they paid us, but I don't think they paid enough for anything," said Rich, who was a young teenager at the time. "We were just depressed and sad, and didn't feel that it was fair."
Shanklin, who was almost 30, remembers her father-in-law's agony at the news.
"I remember his going crazy almost because they were taking his home," she said.
Last Saturday, the women--and a couple hundred friends and relatives--reunited to celebrate the happy ending to that story, the 50th anniversary of the group's purchase of the 44 modest houses that eventually were built for them by the government.
To this day, many of them still call the two-story structures off Columbia Pike home. And the feeling of family is strong enough that relatives came from Florida, Michigan and New Jersey to take part in the golden anniversary of the George Washington Carver Home Association.
Sedonia Brown, Rich's daughter, gave a tribute to the first generation on behalf of the second generation. She cited academic degrees and impressive careers that the second generation can brag about, because their blue-collar parents worked so hard.
"We made it in spite of the odds and in spite of the statistics, but because of our parents," she said. "You have instilled in us a sense of responsibility. . . . It is our prayer that with the help of God we can make you as proud as you have made us."
In keeping with history, the housing cooperative still is entirely a black community. Freed black slaves first settled in the area near where the Pentagon sits now during the Civil War, according to Arlington County librarian Ingrid Kauffman.
That original community, called Freedman's Village, was renamed Queen City and was on part of the the Pentagon's current 583-acre site as well as the incline westward, where the Navy Annex stands. Rich and friends could not remember how many people lived there, but estimated 300.
When the government moved them to make way for the giant military office building, they were placed in trailers on the land where they live today. Rich, a foster child in a family of seven, lived in one trailer and her parents in another. Later, the government built temporary housing. Finally, the modest cinder-block homes went up.
The government put the homes on the market in 1949, and the residents had right of first refusal. The problem was finding someone who would loan a group of economically struggling black people $123,000. The James W. Rouse Co. issued the group a Federal Housing Administration loan, Rich said, which the cooperative paid off in 1974.
The group has since gotten other loans for renovation and beautification, and the cinder block now is covered with stucco on top and Permastone on the bottom. There are carefully manicured lawns, and rose bushes dot the grounds. Residents of the cooperative pay only $200 a month in coop fees. Units sell for about $25,000.
"We are proud that we can make such nice homes out of them," Jeffress said, sitting in her small but cozy living room, looking through old pictures of the group.
The cooperative manages to keep costs down in part because Rich and the rest of the board volunteer their administrative time, and because they are modest in their approach: The cooperative's office sits in the building that once housed the incinerator for the complex.
About a dozen of the original Queen City residents still live at George Washington Carver Homes, and most of today's residents have ties to that original group. When an opening occurs, which is rare, the group is very particular about who gets it.
"They really scrutinize people when they come in to buy," said Taunya Bryant, who grew up in the complex but now lives in Florida. "They don't let just anyone buy a co-op. Their moral being has to be very strong. It's like bringing someone into a family."
Over the years, that family has celebrated the anniversary of home ownership, and last Saturday, the group marked 50 years. But now, some wonder if it might be the last big celebration.
"After 50 years, where do we go?" Rich asked, then answered her own question.
"We've got some children who are interested," she said. "They're real proud of this place."