African American history is not a separate component of the Arlington story, but a central part of our shared history.”
— “A Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington County Virginia,” Second Edition, 2016
A History of Arlington
Black History Month is a special annual celebration and opportunity to reflect on the many contributions of African Americans within our nation. Locally, African Americans have played a central role in the formation and development of our County. Overcoming the harsh realities of slavery, Jim Crow, resettlement and segregation, African Americans in Arlington have fought against injustice and advanced a more equitable society.
We invite you to read the Arlington County Historic Preservation Program’s “A Guide to the African American Heritage of Arlington, County, Virginia” for a fascinating story of the people, places and events that have shaped our community.
Diversity and Inclusivity in Arlington Today
As our County has evolved and grown, many of the communities that helped shape it have changed, too. In 1900, African Americans comprised 38% of Arlington County’s population. By 2016, they accounted for just 8% of the overall population (American Community Survey, 2016).
Although the quality of life in Arlington is high on average, African American households, and other households of color, often face disproportionate barriers to social and economic advancement. Across the County, 13% of black households are living in poverty.
A recent study by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation (NVHF) shows that adjacent census tracts often experience very different demographics, health outcomes, and access to resources. The report describes “islands of poverty” as clusters of tracts that face multiple challenges, including inadequate or unaffordable housing, a lack of health insurance, or poverty. More often that not, these islands of poverty are some of the most racially diverse tracts within our community. Addressing and mitigating the disparities that these populations face – whether it be economic stability, access to transportation, or housing stability – is critical to ensuring that these communities have the same opportunities to achieve economic success and well-being.
Fortunately, Arlington is a well-resourced community that deeply values inclusivity and diversity. By understanding our history and using an equity lens, we can – and should – work towards promoting equity and equal opportunity within our community.