Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: A Centennial Celebration of Tinner Hill

I feel blessed to live in a municipality like Falls Church – a small progressive community where knowing your neighbors and interacting with those who make decisions regarding its governance is possible. Living close to our nation’s capital gives us the opportunity to enjoy big city culture and free national treasures such as the Smithsonian Museums and the Library of Congress. First class entertainment, such as sports teams, theatrical performances and musical venues, are all at our fingertips. Shopping malls where every possible item is for sale for our convenience and gift giving needs. We live in a community that offers unique restaurants, shops and outstanding entertainment as well. We truly have much to be thankful for.

Falls Church was established over 300 years ago. And through the years, it has taken a lot of good people to make our community what it is today. Our town has endured and participated through a revolution, a civil war, and a civil rights struggle to create the community that we now enjoy. It has not always been pretty, but we have had the advantage of prudent leadership and fair-minded people here who have ultimately made good and right decisions, through civilized discourse and debate.

January 8, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of a Falls Church institution, the first rural branch of the NAACP, which was established to defend the rights of property owners in the town of Falls Church. Dr. Edwin B. Henderson and Mr. Joseph Tinner, two African American leaders, called a meeting of concerned African American citizens who met at the home of Joseph Tinner on January 8, 1915. The Falls Church Town Council had proposed an ordinance that would have created four distinct segregated districts in the town. Three would be designated, “For whites only” and one would be designated, “For colored only.”

There were several African Americans who lived along the major thoroughfares of the community. Many of them would have been affected by this new ordinance. If you were an African American living in one of these areas, if you chose to sell your property, you would be forced to sell to “White Only” and move to the small designated area for “Colored Only.”

The nine men who met on Tinner Hill in 1915, formed the Colored Citizens Protective League. This group conducted a letter-writing campaign whereby all the town councilmen, all the business owners and all the church leaders asking where they stood on the issue of establishing segregated districts in the town and how that would effect race relations.

Additionally, the CCPL wrote a letter to W. E. B. DuBois to ask for help and to establish a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The response to their correspondence was that there were no rural branch of the fledgling organization that was founded only six years previously. However, the national and local Washington branch would support their efforts to defeat the segregation ordinance and allow the group to operate as a standing committee of the NAACP.

Though the segregation ordinance was approved by the community in a referendum vote in June, 1915, a suit was filed that kept the ordinance from being enforced. Meanwhile, the United States Supreme Court permanently nullified the ordinance in the decision passed down in Warley versus Buchannan, in 1917.

This civil rights victory altering land ownership for the citizens of Falls Church is commendable, not only for the African Americans living in the city at the time, but for all Americans here and now. Anything that furthers the principles of democracy should be cause for celebrating the resilience and fair-mindedness of this community. We should honor and celebrate the victory of people standing up for their constitutional rights, as well as, the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The Tinner Hill history is in line with the story of our nation’s struggle to grow and be accepting of all people: different races, nationalities, sexual orientations and religious beliefs.

I want to invite everyone to the Tinner Hill Centennial Celebration Dinner Awards Gala on January 9, 2015. Our guest speaker will be Roslyn Brock, the national chair for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This event will take place at the new Hilton Garden Inn, Falls Church, 706 W. Broad Street from 6:30 – 11 p.m. Tickets for the event can be purchased on the Tinner Hill website at www.tinnerhill.org.

On Saturday, January. 10, at 1 p.m., Tinner Hill, along with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, plans a ribbon-cutting and dedication for the Tinner Hill Historic Site, where the first meeting took place. The Tinner Hill Historic Site is located at 106 Tinner Hill Road, in Falls Church. Development of the site is collaboration between the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, Falls Church City, Fairfax County and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

On behalf of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season. And, I hope that you will join us in January as we pause for a moment to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of civil rights activism in Falls Church, when the first rural branch of the NAACP in the nation was established by citizens of Falls Church, Virginia.


Edwin Henderson is president and founder of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.