News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Flashback Monday: Ebony and Mauve, Living Together In Perfect Harmony

When its brutalist right angles and concrete emerged from the primordial Virginia forests in the mid-1960s, Reston attracted its share of press coverage -- magazines like Life and Time posted long think piece articles wondering why people would buy townhouses that weren't strictly in towns, among other things. At first glance, the photo from a late 1960s magazine pictured above doesn't seem that different. Except that the people photographed were black, and it was Ebony magazine with the big story calling Reston "an ideal city." Why, you may ask? At a time when the rapidly growing suburbs were still heavily segregated, Reston stood out as a place where homes were available to anyone. According to Ebony, we have Bob Simon -- and our groovy mauve modern architecture -- to thank for that, along with a headline that would seem familiar today:

Give us some good blockquote, 1960s magazine writer:

There may be a connection between Reston's modern design and its residents' lack of racial prejudice. Whites in nearby Herndon still shake their heads at "the crackpots in Reston"
Nice to see the SICK HERNDON BURNS began a half-century ago.
But Robert E. Simon committed himself to open housing a couple years ago when he let Edward E. Mitchell, a retired Army colonel now in Defense Sec. Robert S. McNamara's office, sign a contract for a piece of land in Hunters Wood Village. Simon's stand was criticized by some of his backers, but the white backlash they feared never developed.

People who move to Reston are not running away from anything. They are hunting for an ideal community where their children can mature under the best circumstances, while their own recreational and cultural needs are satisfied. They accept anyone who is trying to achieve the same goals in a congenial atmosphere.

But not all was perfect in our earth-toned nirvana.Reston used integrated pictures in its real estate ads, but still only attracted a handful of black families in the early days.

Ebony goes on to say:

Ignorance and built-in skepticism may contribute to the situation. Mrs. Mitchell said friends warned her and her husband when they revealed their interest in Reston, saying, "That's Virginia. They aren't going to have any colored out there."

Fear of being snubbed or isolated by white neighbors probably haunts others--quite unnecessarily. The Williams on their arrival were surprised when they received $50 worth of groceries accompanied by a letter of welcome and an invitation to participate in village activities.

The article goes on to suggest that it was finances that presented the largest obstacle to a more integrated community, but includes pictures to show that some very Reston experiences -- godawful interiors and waiting for public amenities to be built -- were colorblind experiences then, just as they are now.

As Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall said at Reston's dedication ceremony, "No town can claim to be truly American if it is an enclave of the well-to-do or the private preserve of any single ethnic or racial group."
It's easy to look back and smirk at this today, but at the time this was something radically different, particularly in ole' Virginny, and it arguably remains the most important strand of Bob Simon's legacy.


  1. " At a time when the rapidly growing suburbs were still heavily integrated..." you meant "segregated".

    Yes, I moved here because of its history of integration. Although for some reason, perhaps Virginia's segregationist history, Prince Georges attracted more African-Americans than did Reston.

  2. It is indeed an extraordinarily important strand of Robert Simon's legacy that, in 1964 Virginia -- 3 years before the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia decision -- Reston was consciously conceived as an integrated community. As Reston continues to evolve and grow, we must continue to honor that legacy to make sure it remains an indelible part of Reston's DNA.


(If you don't see comments for some reason, click here).