Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: African-American History in F.C. is a National Story

Sometimes local people and organizations are marginalized, receive little support or recognition in their home communities. So it is with locally based Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.

Most often Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation’s efforts to preserve and tell the important national Falls Church history are met with an apathetic “oh, yeah, home of the First Rural Branch of the NAACP.” Not so outside of the Little City. Recently Tinner Hill has received impressive national recognition and validation.

The beginning of this year we were awarded the Virginians for the Arts Rising Star Award honorable mention from the 2010 Arts Build Communities Awards – the only group in Northern Virginia to distinguish itself as such! A recent grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation laid the groundwork for a cell phone audio tour and to expand a series of heritage tours of Falls Church, in partnership with George Mason University. The tours focus on the African American presence in the city, highlighting local history in national context, connecting overall Falls Church and Fairfax County history and is the only effort to promote tourism using state of the art technology in the city. Information gathered by scholars and historians from Virginia Tech and George Mason University working with Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation over the past five years is being used to document the tours.

In October, Tinner Hill was invited to be a presenter at “Mapping Spectral Traces”, an international and interdisciplinary Virginia Tech University Humanities Symposium and exhibition series which considered how difficult pasts can be researched, documented, represented, and animated in responsible and ethical ways. The conference built upon earlier meetings held at Minneapolis (MN) and Leeds (UK). Presenters from all over the world and the nation were present, but Tinner Hill was the only group identified in Northern Virginia to take part in the conference! Tinner Hill was identified as national diversity scholars and invited (and took part in) the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference held in Austin, Texas, Nov 26-30.

I also hope that the Little City will realize that the history of African Americans in Falls Church is a Falls Church story…an American story.

Another major accomplishment for Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation takes place this coming week. Hopefully, the local community will not miss the opportunity to support this historic event.

Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation has convened an impressive collaborative partnership (including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, YMCA of the USA, Howard University, the Humanities Council of Washington, D.C., D. C. Basketball and the Robert Clayton Collection) that will culminate in the presentation of the first ever national two-day conference on the history of African Americans in basketball. The conference examines the early history of basketball, the role Dr. Edwin B. Henderson (Falls Church resident for over 50 years), the YMCA, Howard University and the District of Columbia played in the establishment of the infrastructure for African Americans to participate in what was a segregated sport. The conference will explore how the D.C. journey led from exclusion to domination of a popular sport.

On Friday, there will be a symposium at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Carmichael Auditorium from 2 – 5 p.m. with Hall of Famers Dave Bing, (currently Detroit Mayor), Earl Lloyd (the first to integrate the NBA) and New York Times Sports writer William Rhoden with George Mason University sports historian David Wiggins. Saturday will be held at Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium from 9:00 am-4:30 pm. Speakers include national authors; Bijan Bayne, Bob Kuska, John Coy, Dave Wiggins, Patrick Reynolds Washington Post cartoonist , Claude Johnson Black Fives CEO and sports historian, Susan Rayl Cortland University professor & Harlem Ren’s and sports historian, John Kline former Harlem Globetrotter and founder of Black Legends of Professional Basketball, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Kevin Tatum, Kristie Winters-Scott Fox Sports South broadcaster, Curtis Symonds President of HBCU Network, Howard Stevenson University of Pennsylvania professor and founder PLAAY, Dr. Marshall Banks Howard University professor Philosophy of Sport.

We invite Falls Church residents and officials to come out to this national conference. I also hope that the Little City will realize that the history of African Americans in Falls Church is a Falls Church story, an American story – one that should not be omitted but embraced; when we understand where we’ve been, we can understand where we’re going. Details of the conference can be found at http://www.tinnerhill.org. The event is free and open to the public.


Edwin B. Henderson is the president of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.