Exactly 100 years ago today, Edwin B. Henderson and Joseph Tinner, two black leaders and residents of Falls Church, called a meeting at the home of Tinner. The Falls Church Town Council proposed an ordinance that would have separated the Falls Church into four districts, three of which would have been designated for only the town’s White residents and one for “colored.”
Nine men met at Tinner’s house to establish a strategy for defeating this measure – they ended up organizing a letter-writing campaign to town councilmen, business owners and church leaders – and those men went on to form the Colored Citizens Protective League.
During this campaign to defeat the segregation ordinance, the Colored Citizens Protective League reached out to W.E.B. DuBois to ask for help in establishing a branch of the then six-year-old National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the time, there was no rural branch established, but the NAACP’s national and Washington branches agreed to support the campaign to defeat the ordinance.
Also, the NAACP allowed Henderson and Tinner’s group to function as a committee of their organization, a decision which is recognized as the beginning of the establishment of the first rural branch of the then fledgling civil rights group.
This weekend the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of that history with a awards dinner gala tomorrow night at the Hilton Garden Inn on West Broad Street and by cutting the ribbon on the Tinner Hill Historic Site this Saturday, Jan. 10, at 1 p.m. at 106 Tinner Hill, Falls Church, where Joseph Tinner’s house once stood.
“It’s a proud moment,” said Ed Henderson, founding president of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and Dr. Edwin B. Henderson’s grandson. “I’m proud that we’re able to put on this commemoration celebrating this 100-year anniversary of the meeting that took place to form the Colored Citizens Protection League.”
Roslyn M. Brock, the chairman of the NAACP’s board of directors and an associate minister at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, will be the keynote speaker at the gala, which is sold out. Ed Henderson said that Brock agreeing to give the keynote address gives credibility to the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation’s claim that the Colored Citizens Protection League, which, in 1918, was chartered as a branch of the NAACP under the name “Falls Church and Vicinity Branch.”
“I think we were very fortunate to get someone of her stature to come to Falls Church and to address our audience for this occasion,” Ed Henderson said. He wrote a guest commentary about the centennial celebration in the Dec. 4 – 10 edition of the News-Press, which is a media sponsor for the awards gala.
“I think this shows what we’ve been saying all along – that [the Falls Church and Vicinity Branch] was the organization’s first rural branch. And it has been said in many places, but I think this is confirmation that now they understand that this [was] the first rural branch.”
Nikki Graves Henderson, executive director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and Ed Henderson’s wife, said she’s very excited about the gala tomorrow night. “It gives us the opportunity to recognize some of the people who have been an integral part of the development of the Tinner Hill Historic Site as well as the growth and expansion of our organization,” she said.
“So I’m really excited to be able to recognize them and to say thank you in a very public forum. A lot of times people may think about saying thank you, but they don’t say thank you in a public forum and that’s what we want to do.”
The ribbon cutting on the Tinner Hill Historic Site the day after the gala will be the culmination of work the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation has been doing since its founding in 1997. The site is being created so that there is a physical presence to preserve history of the creation of the first rural branch of the NAACP. The work has been a labor of love for Nikki Graves Henderson, who has worked in museums throughout her career.
“Preserving African-American history has been a passion of mine for several decades now,” she said. “And this is like an ultimate experience for someone like me, to see the fruition of the work that we’ve been doing for so many years now.”
After the ribbon cutting at 106 Tinner Hill, there will be a reception at ArtSpace Falls Church, located at 410 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church.