City Cast

Queen City: DC's forgotten neighborhood

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on July 25
Street in East Arlington otherwise known as Queen City. (Center for Local History, Arlington County Public Library)

Street in East Arlington otherwise known as Queen City. (Center for Local History, Arlington County Public Library)

Queen City – a historically Black neighborhood in Arlington – was wiped off the map in 1942 to make way for the rushed construction of the Pentagon. It was located where a current-day cloverleaf joins Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard.

The community’s first inhabitants were descendants of Freedmen’s Village – a settlement for freed slaves in the now Arlington Cemetery – who were forced to move out in the 1890s.

The community of over 900 people was completely self-sustaining, with its own businesses, churches, a fire department, school, and even a trolley stop. However, it lacked much of the city infrastructure common in white neighborhoods at the time, like sidewalks and running water.

The village thrived for over 40 years until the federal government decided to use “eminent domain” – allowing the government to seize private property for public use – to commandeer the area for its new defense department headquarters. Residents were given two weeks to vacate and the town was razed almost overnight. Owners received $2,052 in compensation; renters got nothing.

The city put the residents in a trailer camp, where many stayed for years. William Vollin, one of the town's last remaining residents told The Guardian, “We were left devastated, had no place to go. I went from one trailer camp to another trailer camp in filthy conditions.”

Northwest exposure of the Pentagon's construction underway

Northwest exposure of the Pentagon's construction underway. July 1, 1942. (Department of Defense/Wikimedia Commons)

For years, this history was forgotten or ignored, but it’s recently come to light. Just last month, a new public art installation “Queen City” by artist Nekisha Durrett was erected to pay tribute to the vanished Black neighborhood. The structure is a 35-ft tall, well-like brick tower in Metropolitan Park with 903 ceramic teardrop vessels representing the 903 people who were displaced.

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