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Built by the People Themselves

African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia, from the Civil War through Civil Rights

Lindsey Bestebreurtje

Published: Nov 7 2024


Published: Nov 7 2024


Published: Nov 7 2024

OA Ebook
Published: Nov 7 2024


The inclusion of this book in the Open Carolina collection is made possible by the generous funding of

The story of how racial segregation and suburbanization shaped lives, the built environment, and the law in Arlington

Arlington, Virginia, sits on the bank of the Potomac River, just opposite the nation's capital city of Washington, DC. This proximity shaped the history of Arlington and the economic, social, and political lives of its Black residents. In Built by the People Themselves, Lindsey Bestebreurtje traces the history of Arlington's Black community from the first days of emancipation through the era of civil rights in the twentieth century. She highlights individual stories of how Black families, neighborhoods, institutions, and communities were affected by politics, planning, and policy at the county and state levels. A core insight of Bestebreurtje's account is how common people developed strategies to survive and thrive despite systems of oppression in the Jim Crow South. Moving beyond the standard story of suburbanization that focuses on elite white community developers, Bestebreurtje analyzes African American-led community development and its effects on Arlington County.

Lindsey Bestebreurtje has served as a curatorial assistant with the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture since 2015. Her publications have appeared in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography and Reviews in History.

"Built by the People Themselves is a creative study of African Americans as 'city-builders,' despite ongoing social, economic, and political injustice in their everyday lives, families, and communities."—Joe William Trotter Jr., director and founder of Carnegie Mellon University's Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE) and author of Workers on Arrival: Black Labor in the Making of America.

"The challenges faced by African American communities in burgeoning suburban environments are not as frequently studied as those faced by their urban counterparts. In Built by the People Themselves Lindsey Bestebreurtje has sensitively and assiduously delved into the self-preservation strategies used by historic African American neighborhoods in Arlington, Virginia. Through exhaustive research Bestebreurtje provides insight into the evolving tactics used by Black residents to blunt efforts to destroy their homes and their community institutions."—Spencer R. Crew, Clarence J. Robinson, Professor of History, George Mason University

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