As a young African-American boy growing up in Harlem, Carlos C. Campbell, now 75, lived two streets down from Brooklyn Dodgers baseball player Jackie Robinson and used to wave at Robinson as he left his home on the way to Ebbetts Field.
He later befriended jazz and football legends Dizzy Gillespie and Jim Brown, and worked as an actor with Charlton Heston and Robert Wagner and as a musician with jazz drummer Buddy Rich. He has written books, made films, flown planes for the U.S. Navy, worked for former President Ronald Reagan and the Defense Intelligence Agency, for the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a city planner, and was elected to the D100 as one of the most influential directors of corporate boards by the National Association of Corporate Directors.
But when Campbell moved to Northern Virginia in 1968, he said that because of segregation and discrimination, he could not buy a home.
“I looked at 39 different places and it was always the same line,” he said. “I’m sorry, sir, we do not practice open occupancy. It was very humiliating to be turned down for a residence for someone who had served his country during the Cuban Missile Crisis and had resolved to die if that’s what it took to protect it.”
Campbell said that while he was looking, he remembered a place called Reston that he had read about while a Navy aviator. “In 1965 or so, Reston had gotten a lot of ink as an open community, so I eventually remembered hearing about it and decided to check it out.”
Chuck Veatch, an early Reston sales employee, remembers that time well.
“Because Reston in the 1960s was an ‘open’ community within a segregated state that had no fair housing laws, we had a hard time with market resistance in terms of blacks,” Veatch said. “We in Reston had no issues at all, but because Realtors did not sell our homes there was some resentment, and the real estate brokerage community used the race card against us, to sell against us and tell people they didn’t want to live in Reston.”
Married and with two daughters, Campbell purchased his first Reston home, in Vantage Hill, in October 1968. He soon went to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C.
“It was great to finally be able to find a community in which we were tolerated,” he said. “But it was still no piece of cake.”
Campbell estimates that at that time, Reston consisted of about 1,500 people, about four percent of whom were African American.
“There was a group of Reston African Americans formed back then who called themselves the Reston Black Focus. I wasn’t initially a part of the group, but they would have get-togethers and invite everyone. Afterwards random people would come up to me and say, ‘Man, you guys throw great parties’ and I would say, ‘OK, thanks.”
According to Campbell, although Reston was an open community, the surrounding areas of Fairfax County still were not quite there yet.
“Leaving Reston, we would be reminded of what it was really like,” he said.
“Everywhere I went, people in their cars slowed down and asked me if I was a Washington Redskin, but I guess that was better than them yelling ‘nigger’ out of the window as they went by, which also would happen.”
Campbell said his family also felt the effects of discrimination.
“Beauty parlors would refuse to style my wife’s hair, and a swimming pool once closed down, rather than let my little girl get in the water,” he said.
Campbell said that even in Reston during that time, African Americans often were under a microscope, and whites were not sure how to interact with them. On several occasions he said he discovered people rifling through his garbage cans, who then ran off when confronted.
“I would also occasionally get a knock on my door and someone would ask me what I did for a living, or ask me if I needed a job,” he said. “I also used to jog and would invariably get stopped by police who would often say they were looking for a robbery suspect.”
But overall, Campbell said life in Reston was always positive. He later moved to Golf Course Island in 1970, but has remained in Reston for 44 years.
“Reston was always a great place,” he said. “As an African American here, I was always tolerated, and as the years went by, Reston transcended that tolerance into acceptance. I felt less like a guinea pig and more of a citizen and a member of this community. Discrimination and intolerance still exist, but it is not as overt as it once was. I am glad Reston existed when it did and I’m content to continue living here and giving back.”