A Yankee remembers Alexandria, Virginia

Published 2:57 pm Sunday, October 29, 2017

When I moved back home to Niles in 2009, I left Alexandria, Virginia behind, after living there for 25 years.

I had a house in the “Old Town” section of Alexandria, two blocks from “The Boyhood Home of Robert E. Lee,” a “must-see” for tourists. I lived three blocks from Christ Episcopal Church, and four blocks from Alexandria’s monument erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy honoring the sons of Alexandria who died in the Civil War.

The monument is a statue of “Johnny Reb” with his back to the north and it still sits in the middle of Washington Street, the main street of town. If they haven’t removed it by now, I am certain they will in light of the national challenge against monuments to the Confederacy.

Christ Episcopal Church was built in 1767 and George Washington laid the corner stone. The Washington family pew and the Lee family pew are still being preserved.

I know because this is the church I attended while living in Old Town. The old brick church has a small cemetery in its yard, including a large burial mound, a mass grave for confederate soldiers who died at the Battle of Bull Run at the beginning of the Civil War.

Across the street from the church is the original cottage that George and Martha Washington built right after their marriage. Boy, if those walls could talk!  The Washingtons moved to Mount Vernon permanently once it was renovated to Martha’s liking, but still rode their dress carriage into town on Sundays to attend Christ Church.

Some 60 years later, Robert E. Lee settled in after marriage at his wife’s family estate just north of Alexandria. That plantation was called The Arlington. The mansion house is now called the Custis-Lee Mansion and sits high above Arlington National Cemetery.

As soon as the Civil War began, Robert E. Lee left his position with the United States Army and became the commander of the Confederate army because he was “first, a Virginian.” His family fled to Richmond when the Union troops seized northern Virginia, leaving behind the vacant plantation.

After the Battle of Bull Run, the Union soldiers who were once Lee’s best friends at West Point, buried their dead comrades in Lee’s front yard.  Thus, Arlington National Cemetery was created, albeit in spite.

Alexandria is also known politically as “The People’s Republic of Alexandria” due to its liberal leanings. Everything is highly regulated, and the Old Town taxes are sky high.

Nonetheless, the Alexandria City Council  ruled in 2000, 30 years after Alexandria’s 1971 forced- school bus integration controversy, that the popular  movie “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington, could not be filmed in or around the city of Alexandria because it portrayed the citizens as white racists due to the community’s strong support for segregated schools.

However, it is a true story, and many of the main characters still live in city. In the movie, two high schools (one “white” and the other “black”) merged, and, in true Hollywood fashion, the new integrated high school football team won the state championship.  It’s a great movie, but the residents of Alexandria are still ashamed of the film and it is rarely discussed.

We cannot change history, but we are able to recall the past and muse on its effects on contemporary times. That is what we are collectively experiencing today. That is why a broader understanding of recorded history is still important.

A native of Niles, Jack Strayer moved back home in 2009 after living and working in Washington, D.C., since 1976. Strayer has served as a congressional staffer, state legislative press secretary, federal registered lobbyist and Vice President of the National Center for Policy Analysis. He is a nationally recognized expert on federal health policy reform and led the fight for the enactment of Health Savings Accounts.