“This was all beehives back here,” Alfred O. Taylor Jr. said as he eased his minivan down 20th Street South in Arlington, through a residential neighborhood of tidy single-family homes. “Floyd Hawkins lived there. He was a beekeeper and won awards for his bees.”
Taylor, 84, was showing me where he’d grown up, and he seemed to know the history of every house and business we passed.
We were exploring the area bounded by Walter Reed Drive to the west, the Army Navy Country Club to the east, 16th Street South to the north and Four Mile Run on the south. The signs say “Nauck.” Taylor calls it “Green Valley.” Soon the signs will, too.
Taylor’s family has lived here since his grandfather bought land in 1913 and moved the clan from Foggy Bottom. But the community had been around a lot longer than that. It was founded, Taylor said, by Sarah and Levi Jones, who bought property here in 1844. The Joneses were free blacks who farmed the land.
After the Civil War, they subdivided their property and sold parcels to other African Americans, including some who had lived in Freedman’s Village near Arlington House. A white-owned manor house nearby gave its name to the entire area: Green Valley.
“It’s always been referred to as ‘Green Valley’ or ‘the Valley’ by the African Americans,” Taylor said.
The area was one of several predominantly black communities in Arlington, including Hall’s Hill and Johnson’s Hill.
Taylor steered us past the offices of WETA television and to Jennie Dean Park, once known as Green Valley Park.
“I played baseball there with a team called the Green Valley Black Sox,” he said. It’s also where he watched dirt-track motorcycle races that drew such stars of black motor sport as J.E. “Wild Bill” Davis.
Taylor worked as a journeyman printer at the Government Printing Office — he typeset the Warren Commission Report — before earning a doctorate in education. He later set up a printing and publishing curriculum at the University of the District of Columbia, where he retired as an acting dean.
After he retired, Taylor started substitute teaching at Drew Elementary. Every February, the kids would get the same assignment: Write something about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Taylor thought there were plenty of other accomplished black figures closer to home.
He started gathering stories of Green Valley and the African Americans who made it a vibrant community in the face of racism, people such as Leonard “Doc” Muse, who opened the first black-owned pharmacy in Arlington; and Mamie Bell Mackley Brown, who ran the Friendly Beauty School; and Floyd Hawkins, who worked at the City Post Office in the District, helped found the Arlington County Fair — and kept award-winning bees.
Their stories were among those Taylor compiled in his 2015 book, “Bridge Builders of Nauck/Green Valley: Past and Present.”
And where does “Nauck” come from?
“Well, it’s named after a developer with no history in the community,” Taylor said.
John D. Nauck was a white developer from the District who in 1874 bought 46 acres in South Arlington and began subdividing it.
“Last year or so, we found out he was in the Confederate army,” Taylor said. “But that had nothing to do with the impetus to be called Green Valley.”
Taylor said he just thinks the people who live in a place should be the ones who decide what it’s called.
The name “Nauck” was connected to the area as far back as the 1920s, but Taylor said the real push for it occurred in the 1970s, when developers eyed the community and decided “Green Valley” was associated too much with its black past.
“This is my perception,” Taylor said. “No one will admit to it.”
The community has gone from 97 percent African American to 35 percent, Taylor said. As in other Arlington neighborhoods, modest houses are being bought and replaced by bigger ones. Longtime residents like Taylor don’t want the community’s history to be lost.
In May, the Arlington County Civic Federation voted to approve changing the name of the Nauck Civic Association to the Green Valley Civic Association. The County Board will now alter its maps and databases.
We drove up South Walter Reed Drive, a slope that was easy enough in Taylor’s minivan. He chuckled at the memory of tackling it on his bike as a youngster.
“Bicycles weren’t like they are now,” he said. Strong was the kid who could reach the top without getting off and walking his bike.
“We called it ‘Superman Hill,’ ” Taylor said.
He suspects kids still call it that today.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.