Town center could be named for civic leader

A mural honoring the life of John Robinson Jr., by artist Romeo Taylor, overlooks the town-square project in the Arlington community of Green Valley.

For decades of service to his South Arlington community, what has been known in its planning stages as the Nauck Town Square is likely to be known as the “John Robinson Jr. Town Square.”

The announcement that Robinson’s name was the preferred choice of the community was made by Green Valley Civic Association president Portia Clark at the Sept. 21 Green Valley Day celebration, held at Charles Drew Elementary School.

Clark said the name of Robinson won out over other options in a community vote. The naming itself rests with the County Board, which might be expected to go along with the community’s preference.

Robinson, who died in 2010 at 75, long was involved in the Green Valley (also known as Nauck) community. At a celebration of his life three summers ago, the idea was floated for naming a part of the town square after him.

“We’ve talked about a statue, we’ve talked about a plaque, we’ve talked about naming a stage – we want the citizens of the community to come together and decide,” Clark said then.

Construction has started on the town square, located where 24th Street South, South Kenmore Street and South Shirlington Road come together. In recent years, the parcel has been mostly barren (with the exception of a few trees), but has served for decades as a gathering spot for those living in the historically African-American community of Green Valley.

Voters approved funding for the project in a referendum last November; County Board members voted earlier this year on the final procedural steps needed to move forward, including purchase of an adjoining parcel, and shovels are now in the ground.

The actual naming of the town square itself is in the hands of the County Board. The board’s vice chairman, Libby Garvey, said that while regular procedures needed to be followed, she was amenable to naming the facility as residents have requested.

“What the community wants is certainly the most important criteria,” she told the Sun Gazette, saying the proposal “sounds good to me.”

“I knew John Robinson Jr., and remember him fondly,” Garvey said. “He was a very special person and cared deeply about his community and everyone who came his way.”

As head of the Martin Luther King Community Center and publisher of the Green Valley News, Robinson was a fixture in the community during turbulent times for a neighborhood that had been one of the few African-American Arlington communities during the era of segregation.

The community’s decline began in the 1960s and was accelerated by the scourge of drugs in the 1980s, followed by gentrification that disrupted its neighborhood cohesiveness before a more recent rebound in its fortunes.

Despite issues facing the Green Valley community, “John helped make it better for many of us,” said Clark, who grew up there and as a child earned money selling Robinson’s Green Valley News newsletter.  

At the celebration three years ago, Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson recalled Robinson as being “kind of like the mayor” of the South Arlington community.

“He was very effective at getting things done,” Ferguson said then. “John put all his money, all his love, all his possessions into this community – an incredible guy.”

A mural of Robinson by artist Romeo Taylor now can be found close to the town-square construction site, next to one of another community stalwart, Leonard “Doc” Muse, longtime proprietor of the Green Valley Pharmacy.

Another part of the effort to honor Robinson is cataloguing his large collection of photographs and identifying who is in them.

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