An upcoming dedication ceremony for new signs at Freedom Hill Park (8531 Old Courthouse Road) outside of Tysons represents more than just recognition of the struggles of local families during the Civil War era.
For the Fairfax County Park Authority, it’s the beginning of a shift in how local history is presented.
The Freedom Hill Park dedication is the first part of the Untold Stories project, which aims to shift historical presentation from a focus on big events and local celebrities to the more personal stories of Fairfax County’s past residents.
“It’s a relatively new initiative,” said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Park Authority. “We’ve been doing interpretations of properties and history for many years, but this is linked to the One Fairfax initiative. We’re looking for the more personal stories about families and their contributions.”
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted One Fairfax in November 2017, committing the county government to considering issues of equity in its policies and decision-making.
Originally dedicated in November 2012, Freedom Hill Park derived its name from the sizable community of free Black people that resided in the area during the 19th century, according to the park authority’s website.
Some of the stories told in the new signs at the site include that of Lucy Carter, a free woman of color who may have worked as a Union spy, and stories of intermarriages between the local Black community and the native Tauxenent and Pamunkey tribes.
Pedersen describes these as the stories that “wouldn’t necessarily make a history book” but help paint a better picture of what life was like in Fairfax County’s past.
Pedersen says the Freedom Hill Park signs are the county’s first time putting the project into practice, but there are a few other irons in the fire, and she hopes more residents come forward and share stories from their families’ past.
Scheduled for noon tomorrow (Saturday), the dedication will include a land recognition ceremony performed by Rose Powhatan, director of the Powhatan Museum of Indigenous Arts and Culture.
“It’s a custom dating back centuries to recognize that indigenous peoples were the original stewards of these lands,” Pedersen said. “It’s an acknowledgement of the roots of the origins of the land.”
Metro Extends Service Hours This Weekend — Starting Sunday (July 18), Metro will provide rail service until midnight for the first time since operating hours were reduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transit agency approved a package of fare reductions and service improvements in June aimed at attracting riders as more offices are set to reopen in the fall. [The Washington Post]
Freedom Hill Park to Recognize Historic Carter Family — As part of an interpretive history project, the Fairfax County Park Authority is inviting the public to a traditional land ceremony and sign dedication at Freedom Hill Park in Vienna on July 31. The new signs will tell the story of the multiracial Carter family, whose accomplishments include establishing the First Baptist Church of Vienna and possibly spying for the Union during the Civil War. [FCPA]
Fairfax County School Board Elects New Chair — The school board unanimously approved Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky as its new chair for the 2021-2022 school year. Board members thanked Mason District representative Ricardy Anderson for her time as chair amid the pandemic and noted she will get some much-deserved time with her family. [FCPS]
Food Trucks Stop by Providence Community Center — “Come by the Providence Community Center tomorrow [July 16] from 11am to 1:30pm for some freshly made empanadas by @empanadasdemza! This will make for a great snack over the weekend so make sure you grab some extra to share with your friends and families!” [Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Twitter]
Stanley Stewart wasn’t the only one wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt among the crowd of people at the Juneteenth event outside the First Baptist Church of Vienna on Saturday (June 19).
But this gathering was more celebration than protest, serving as a kick-off for the Town of Vienna’s inaugural Liberty Amendments Month.
Officially recognized by Congress as a federal holiday for the first time this year, Juneteenth — a portmanteau of June 19 — serves as a symbolic commemoration of the U.S.’s abolition of slavery. It comes on the anniversary of the day in 1865 when a major general for the Union informed Texas that all enslaved people were now free.
“This wasn’t in no history book I read,” Stewart said.
The Juneteenth recognition represents the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983 to celebrate the civil rights leader’s birthday, following his assassination in 1968.
The Lone Star State became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, starting in 1980, and other states followed. More informal commemorations, though, began as early as 1866.
Wrapping around the church parking lot, Vienna’s Juneteenth Celebration featured informational booths, vendors, music, and more in addition to providing a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the church.
Signs at the event looked at past historical figures and events, with one noting that slave labor helped build the White House and U.S. Capitol. Others highlighted U.S. senators who stood up for abolition.
An outdoor stage set up by the church hosted a variety of musical performances, including a gospel singer who sprinkled in references to Juneteenth and invited listeners to clap their hands if they’re free.
“It’s a start,” said Wes Cherry, a field underwriter with Foresters Financial operating with the group Focus on Community. The company is a fraternal benefit society that gives money back to communities.
For Cherry, the federal holiday recognition is much appreciated, but he also noted the move came at the same time that many state legislatures, including in Texas, are working to limit teachers’ ability to discuss racism in their classrooms.
The additional federal holiday also comes a year after last summer’s widespread protests for racial justice in the wake of several killings, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police as well as jogger Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by three white men in Georgia.
“America, while we love it, [has] to acknowledge our past and history,” said Vernon Walton, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vienna.
Last year, the church held a rally for Juneteenth following the “lynching of George Floyd,” Walton said. This year, he said he’s overjoyed that people can celebrate the federal government recognizing the holiday.
Despite the somber and painful legacy of the past that continues to shape the present, Walton and other attendees this year noted how the event drew diverse members of the community.
“People are here from all walks of life,” he said. “We really are blessed.”
The event’s kickoff ceremony remains to watch on social media. It launched the Town of Vienna’s weeklong celebration of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, which will be followed by events commemorating the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.
(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The Fairfax County Government Center, where county policy is created and official functions take place, is an imposing, modern-looking building. Above the main doors is the county seal: a royal-looking crest with lions, a horse, and the date “1742.”
Unlike the building, the seal is of a different time. Adopted seven decades ago, it bears a version of the coat of arms belonging to Thomas Fairfax, the sixth Lord Fairfax and a slaveholding British loyalist who once owned much of the land that makes up Fairfax County today.
When asked if there’s been discussion about further research into the county logo, representatives of the Fairfax County History Commission said it’s not on the agenda or a priority right now. The commission is currently undertaking an inventory of local African American history after completing one about Confederate names on public places.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says, unlike with the use of Confederate names and symbols, officials have not heard any objections to the county seal from the community:
America was unfortunately built in part through the oppression of people of color. We cannot separate this history from Fairfax County, but we can listen to the community on what symbols are continuing to create divisiveness and inequity. Symbols of the Confederacy, for example, do not speak to the County’s values today, so we are working to remove these through the proper processes. Currently, there are ongoing efforts to change road names as well as other Confederate symbols and the Board previously took action to remove the monument of John Quincy Marr from the courthouse. We have not heard from our community members that these same messages are felt from the County seal. We continue to invest significant resources into our historically underserved communities to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in Fairfax County.
The county selected the seal as its logo in 1949 ahead of an impending visit from the then-Lord Fairfax. It won over a dozen other seals belonging to the Fairfax family due to “its clarity when reproduced,” according to historical documents from Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room.
A county flag with the seal was unveiled on June 13, 1968, the day before Flag Day, in response to repeated requests for a flag from county schools.
“We probably ought to have a Betsy Ross here to get the flag ready for Flag Day,” said Gil Shaw, the flag’s creator and the county’s director of information services at the time. “But the coat of arms of Thomas Lord Fairfax will soon fly over the lands he once owned and which became Fairfax County in 1742.”
Early colonial Virginia land history is admittingly a bit confusing due to the limited availability of written records and a lack of variety in names.
“The famous one, for our purposes, was the sixth Lord Fairfax,” explains Steve Harris-Scott, an assistant professor in George Mason University’s history department and an expert on colonial Virginia history.
“The nobles generally passed on their names to their first-born son, so when they took over the title, they were all the same names,” he said. “There was a Thomas Fairfax, first Lord Fairfax, then there was Thomas Fairfax, the second Lord Fairfax, etcetera.”
The sixth Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693 to the fifth Lord Fairfax and Catherine Culpepper.
Through his mother’s side, he inherited about 5 million acres of land in 1710 known as the “Northern Neck,” which encompassed today’s Fairfax County. Taken from the indigenous people who had lived there for centuries, the land was a gift to Catherine’s father, Thomas Culpepper, from the restored King Charles II for his support during the English Civil War.
“[This land] is essentially bordered by the Rappahannock [River] on the south and the Potomac on the north,” Harris-Scott said.
However, Fairfax spent most of his life in England and didn’t move to Virginia until 1742, the date on the county’s logo. He also may never have resided in what is now Fairfax County, according to Harris-Scott. Read More
The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.
We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!
Tuesday (May 18)
- Fit4Mom Stroller Strides — 9:30-10:30 a.m. at the Mosaic District (2910 District Ave) — Fit4Mom Stroller Strides is a 60-minute workout that includes strength training, cardio, and core restoration, along with entertainment for the little ones in your stroller. Classes meet in Strawberry Park in front of Mom & Pop. Register online. Your first session is free. A second class will be held on Thursday (May 20) at the same time.
- Mainstreaming African American History in the Schools (Online) — 7 p.m. — Come join a discussion on integrating local African American history into Falls Church City Public Schools curriculum. Panelists include Falls Church Historical Commission Chair Ronald Anzalone, Vice Chair Edwin B. Henderson II, and FCCPS Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan. Topics of discussion will include the school renaming efforts. Email Pete Sullivan for the Zoom link.
Thursday (May 20)
- Epidemics of the Past — 9:30-10:30 a.m. at Historic Huntley (6918 Harrison Lane) — Learn about epidemics of the past and how they’ve shaped the society we live in today. The program will be outdoors and costs $8 per person. Register online and call 703-768-2525 for more information.
- A Conversation with Author Angie Kim (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — Angie Kim, author of the Edgar Award winner Miracle Creek, will have a public Q&A discussion on issues and experiences that have shaped her life and work as an Asian American. Registration is required. A Zoom link will be sent 24 hours in advance of the event.
Friday (May 21)
- Fredricksburg Nationals Game — 4-11 p.m. — The Old Firehouse is taking a trip to see the Fredricksburg Nationals play the Salem Red Soxs in a minor league baseball game. The cost is $60 ($50 for MCC district residents) for the tickets, dinner, and transportation to and from the game. Bring extra money for souvenirs.
- Bike to Work Day — 6:30-9 a.m. at Strawberry Park — Visit the Mosaic District on National Bike to Work Day for a free T-shirt and entry in a raffle for more prizes. Participants should register in advance to be eligible for prizes. Masks are required for participants at rest stops. For more information, visit the Bike to Work Day Metro DC website or check out @MosaicCommutes on Twitter.
Sunday (May 23)
- Virtual Afternoon Tea (Online) — 2 p.m. — Green Spring Gardens is hosting its weekly virtual tea. This week’s topic is personal grooming throughout history. Learn about how bathing was a public affair for years and how it turned into a private event. Register online for the Zoom link. For more information, call 703-941-7987.
Photo via Angie Kim/Twitter
The Madeira School in McLean could undergo an extensive overhaul if its application goes through, but down the road, Fairfax County staff say the school might consider being designated as a historic district, among other long-term changes.
The all-girls private school is seeking to tear down several buildings on its Georgetown Pike site so they can be replaced with new educational facilities, like a science and technology hall and new stables.
In an extensive report on the project, county planning staff raised objections to a couple of items, but generally expressed support for the plan and recommended approval.
“Staff finds that the application, with the proposed development conditions contained in Appendix 1, is in harmony with the Comprehensive Plan and the standards set forth within the Zoning Ordinance,” staff said in the report. “For these reasons, staff supports approval of this application.”
Among the buildings being demolished are a farmhouse built in 1930, a cabin moved to the campus in 1989 — but the original date of construction is unknown — and a science building constructed in 1975 with a unique architectural style.
While staff recommends approval of the demolition, the recommendation comes with the condition the school obtain background information on the buildings and thoroughly photograph them before they are knocked down.
Moving forward, staff said the applicant should nominate the Madeira school property as a historic district:
Staff believes the history of the development of the school in the 1930s, as well as the community impact of the school, make it a potential candidate for listing on the Inventory of Historic Sites. If a nomination is completed, the History Commission will then review the nomination and determine if it meets inventory criteria. The listing on the Inventory of Historic Sites is an honorific designation and does not place any additional use or development restrictions on the property. It is used as an educational tool to create awareness of historic structures.
Staff also noted that listing the school on the inventory could provide an opportunity for the Department of Planning and Development to identify mitigation strategies to avoid negative impacts from future development.
Staff are also working with the applicant on transportation improvements at the site — namely, a realignment of the entrance to the school. The school has not agreed to the modification, since it argues that there is no planned increase in school capacity.
Despite the disagreement, staff said the issue was relatively minor.
The Fairfax County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Madeira School’s special exception amendment application at 7:30 p.m. on May 19, with a Board of Supervisors hearing scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on June 8.
Image via Madeira School
The discussion was based on the Fairfax County History Commission’s 539-page inventory, which was first released in December and details the history and context of each place named after a prominent Confederate figure.
The project traces its roots to last summer, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed the commission to study the legal and financial implications of possible name changes throughout the county.
The commission determined that, out of about 26,500 total named places in the county, approximately 157 streets, parks, monuments, subdivisions, and public places in Fairfax County bear names with ties to the Confederacy.
“This research confirmed…that Fairfax County was a crossroads of war,” Fairfax County History Commissioner Barbara Naef said. “Combatants of both Union and Confederates flourished, camped, marched, clashed, and suffered both victory and defeat here.”
In addition to cataloging sites, the report provides appropriate context, history, and narrative for possible name change discussions, including a dive into “Lost Cause” ideology, its pervasiveness in Fairfax County, and how it influenced the naming of places.
The Lost Cause ideology encompasses myths used to rationalize Confederacy sympathy, mainly that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, the pre-war Southern way of life is to be celebrated, and that prominent figures like Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee didn’t believe in slavery.
“There was an urging by some to exclude it from the report altogether or soften its tone,” Naef said. “These reactions prove the point. The perspective of the Lost Cause has been embraced by generations.”
In its report, the History Commission recommended making the inventory available to the public via the Fairfax County Public Library, which is currently the case, and using the report as a guide for “a robust public process for considering future actions.”
The Hunter Mill District town hall is one of the first steps in that process, members of the commission at the meeting noted.
Within the Hunter Mill District, there are believed to be four places named after Confederates: Fort Lee Street, Lee Manor, the Mosby’s Landing condominium complex, and Wade Hampton Drive.
Fort Lee Street was named in the mid-1970s when Fox Mill Inc. developed the Folkstone subdivision, while Lee Manor is directly tied to Lee Highway, which is in the process of being renamed.
The Virginia General Assembly passed a bill in February, allowing Arlington to rename their portion of Lee Highway.
Mosby’s Landing in Vienna takes its name from John Mosby, a Confederate commander who was also known as the “Gray Ghost.” The condo complex was built on the site where legend says that Mosby and his horse hid out from Union soldiers.
Vienna’s Wade Hampton Drive is named after a Confederate lieutenant general who reportedly led a unit of 600 men and horses down the road in 1865. After the war, Hampton criticized Reconstruction and worked to suppress the vote among South Carolina’s Black population when he became governor of the state.
According to the history commission, the Town of Vienna named the street after Hampton in recognition of the Civil War’s 100th anniversary. The town is currently in the process of having the road’s name changed.
“The town has appointed an ad hoc group to look at this street name and consider alternatives,” Fairfax County History Commissioner Anne Stuntz said.
While the Commission’s charge was to examine places named after Confederates, several residents suggested that places named after individuals involved in the “Mass Resistance” movement opposing school integration should also be re-examined.
Examples include former Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent W.T. Woodson, who opposed desegregation and still has a high school bearing his name, though schools were overall not included in the history commission’s inventory.
Commenters also mentioned Carter Glass, a state senator who developed laws intended to prevent Black people from voting, including Virginia’s poll tax.
For years, the library at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston was named after Glass. Today, that building is now the Reston Museum.
Photo via Fairfax County/YouTube
Former Falls Church resident and civil rights pioneer Edwin Bancroft Henderson is one of five Black Virginians being honored with a new series of highway plaques aimed at highlighting Black history throughout the state.
Options for the new markers were submitted by Virginia students, and of the 100 submissions, five were chosen.
According to a press release from the Governor’s office:
Henderson, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame known as the “Father of Black Basketball,” organized athletic leagues for African Americans, wrote The Negro in Sports (1939), organized the first rural chapter of the NAACP, and was president of the NAACP Virginia state conference as he worked for civil rights.
The recognition also comes after years of work by Henderson’s grandson to get his grandfather’s contributions to civil rights recognized, along with his promotion of physical fitness in young Black athletes and work to document Black sports, as reported by Northern Virginia Magazine.
The marker for Henderson was suggested by Sullivan Massaro from Kings Glen Elementary in Springfield, Virginia.
“The Historical Marker Contest helped me learn more about Black Virginians who have made a difference, like Dr. Edwin Henderson,” Massaro said in the press release. “Dr. Henderson introduced the sport of basketball to Black athletes in Washington, D.C. and is a big part of why basketball is so popular today. As I researched him I learned how much he did not only for the sport of basketball, but for civil rights in Virginia. I couldn’t believe that he did not already have a historical marker, so I chose to nominate him for the contest.”
In 2013, Henderson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Edwin Henderson II, grandson of Edwin Bancroft Henderson, said the marker will help secure his grandfather’s legacy and spread awareness of the local piece of Black history.
“On behalf of the Henderson Family, I’d like to express my deep appreciation to Sullivan and his teacher Ms. Maura Keaney for the recognition of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson’s accomplishments in Virginia by placing a historic marker in front of his home in the City of Falls Church,” Edwin Henderson II said. “This contest is part of an important effort to intertwine African American history into all school curriculum, and ensure that Virginia’s diverse history is represented honestly in classrooms across the Commonwealth.”
Image via University of the District of Columbia
The Town of Vienna is leading the way in Virginia with a newly conceived celebration of four amendments to the U.S. Constitution that enshrined the rights of people of color and women.
The town announced on Friday (March 12) that planning for the inaugural Liberty Amendments Month celebration is officially underway, and community organizations, businesses and individuals are encouraged to help shape the four weeks of festivities.
Liberty Amendments Month is the brainchild of Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, and the Vienna Town Council adopted a resolution on Dec. 7 to officially recognize the occasion. It has since been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly as well.
“We all can celebrate these amendments that ensure rights and liberties for each of us,” Payton said.
“I’m so proud that the Town of Vienna is leading the way in initiating this holiday and month-long commemoration of these fundamental rights that we all cherish,” Mayor Linda Colbert said. “I’m especially proud that Town Manager Mercury Payton came up with the idea and has worked hard to see it become a reality.”
In the wake of last summer’s racial justice protests, Payton conceived of Liberty Amendments Month as a celebration of the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th Constitutional amendments, which abolished slavery, granted citizenship to anyone born or naturalized in the U.S., and extended voting rights to all citizens regardless of race and gender.
Liberty Amendments Month will begin on June 19 — also known as Juneteenth — with an educational event that will “offer a thoughtful reflection on the liberties assured by these four amendments to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the town.
Each of the next four weeks will be dedicated to one of the four liberty amendments with contests, lectures, classes, themed restaurant specials, walks, art exhibits, films, and performances.
The celebration will culminate on July 19 with a multicultural festival featuring food, drinks, crafts, and entertainment from around the world. The Vienna Town Council has designated that day as Liberty Amendments Day, replacing Columbus Day on its list of official holidays.
“There’s lots to celebrate here,” Councilmember Chuck Anderson said. “This is going to be a people’s event just as the Constitution is the people’s document.”
Groups interested in sponsoring, participating in, or hosting events can apply online by April 1.
The town is advising planners to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions and social-distancing guidelines, which could still be in place this summer.
Planning meetings will be held at 5 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Interested organizations can contact [email protected] for a Zoom link to the meetings or more details.
Photo via Town of Vienna
The Oral History Committee of Historic Vienna, Inc. is documenting residents’ memories of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee is asking town residents and businesses to submit representations of the way they were affected by, coped with, or reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stories can explore anything “you think is important to be remembered about this unprecedented time in history,” according to the “COVID Impressions” project webpage.
Possible topics include experiences with unemployment or virtual schools and the impact of the pandemic on relationships with friends or pets. Submissions can take the form of different mediums, including a short text description, a photograph, a poem, or a piece of art.
The collection will be presented on the Historic Vienna, Inc. website and preserved in the archives.
“Together the reflections we gather will capture a variety of our Vienna residents’ experiences,” the committee says.
For their submissions to be accepted, residents must fill out a release form. Submissions may be anonymous if desired but the release form still needs to be submitted.
Historic Vienna, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to preserving the Town of Vienna’s history by hosting public events, supporting the preservation of historic properties, and operating the Freeman Store and Museum, which is currently open during limited hours with strict health protocols in place.
According to its “Vienna Stories” website, Historic Vienna has been preserving local history through recorded interviews since it was established in 1976. Most recently, it launched a new initiative to collect oral histories from longtime area residents in 2013.
Submissions for the COVID-19 stories exhibit and the accompanying release form can be sent to the oral history committee at [email protected]
Photo by Michelle Goldchain