RG 196: Records of the Syphax Family, 1920-1993
The name Syphax has been present in northern Virginia since the early 1800s. Some historians believe that Maria Carter Syphax might have been the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington and adopted by George Washington. Maria grew up at Arlington House, the slave of Parke Custis, and married Charles Syphax, another slave owned by Parke Custis. After their marriage, they were granted 17 acres of land which was officially deeded to them by an act of Congress in 1866. William Syphax, one of Maria and Charles’ ten children, became the first president of the trustee board of Colored schools in Washington, D.C. This William Syphax was the great-uncle of William Thomas Syphax.
William Thomas Syphax, who was born in Arlington, Virginia, became one of the leading black business entrepreneurs in the 1970s. His wife, Margarite Reed Syphax, was one of the first black business women to be designated a Certified Property Manager. This prominent couple started a real estate and construction business that was recognized in Black Enterprise’s first list of the 100 Top Black Businesses in 1973. While building his business, William also found the time to get a Masters’ Degree in Engineering Administration from George Washington University, and a PhD in Behavioral Philosophy from Pacific Western University. He had earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the Virginia State College for Negroes in 1942 and became its Rector in 1974.
William and Margarite met when both were serving the United States during World War II. William was a Group Electronics Officer in the United States Army Air Corps and Margarite toured as an acrobatic dancer with the USO. When William and Margarite returned to Arlington County after World War II, housing was still heavily segregated. In the early 1950s they started selling real estate and then filled a need by designing and building housing for other black residents who were then living in substandard housing in the area then known as “Johnson Hill” and now called Arlington View; William and Margarite lived at 1327 S Queen St. They also built an apartment complex that had an open rental policy – unlike other apartment buildings at the time that were race restrictive. Photographs of the first houses they built are found in the “The Syphax Story – Getting Started.”