ARLINGTON — A racially-charged controversy that triggered protests in Arlington several years ago took a dramatic turn Monday... two of them, in fact, as Arlington's mayor looked on approvingly.
"I busted up all these rocks," Broderick Gamble explained to Mayor Bob Cluck. Gamble pointed to the stone facade on his house on Ross Trail. "I broke three 18-pound sledgehammers. Three!"
Gamble told Mayor Cluck it's tough building a house by hand for five years. But in some ways, that was the easy part for Gamble and fiancee Silk Littlejohn. The African-American couple is moving into an older, predominantly white neighborhood.
In 2007, a mentally ill woman injured Littlejohn with a 2x4 in what prosecutors called a racially-motivated assault at the house.
Then someone painted racial slurs on their garage doors.
The incident prompted protests, which in turn triggered anger and resentment from neighbors and city officials.
But work on the house continued.
On Monday, a crowd gathered to cut the ribbon. The mayor helped.
"We're on your side," Cluck told Gamble and Littlejohn. "We want this to work."
The moment brought Gamble to tears.
"Honestly, as a grown man, I could cry right now," he said. "It's been a long time coming. I'm so grateful."
Broderick Gamble figured it was the perfect time to pop a surprise. He dropped to his knees, flashed a large diamond ring at Silk Littlejohn and asked, "Will you marry me?"
Pastor Freddie Haynes of Friendship West Baptist Church performed the wedding on the spot.
It is a symbolic start to a new life. Despite all that's happened, Gamble and Littlejohn say they hope to someday entertain their new neighbors in their new home.
"We'll have crumpets and tea, or neckbones and greens," laughed Littlejohn. "Whichever you like. But one day it will happen. Whatever a 'crumpet' is... I don't even know!"
The newlyweds expect to move into their still-unfinished home later this week.