By Edwin B. Henderson, II & Irene Chambers
The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and the Social Justice Committee of Falls Church and Vicinity will hold its 3rd annual Martin Luther King Day March on Jan. 21 in the City of Falls Church, Virginia. The march will be followed by a program at the historic Falls Church Episcopal Church at 166 E. Broad Street in Falls Church.
The march will begin at the Tinner Hill civil rights monument at the corner of Lee Highway and Tinner Hill Road. The march will proceed due east along Lee Highway (officially S. Washington St. in Falls Church City) and go approximately three-and-a-half blocks to the Falls Church Episcopal on E. Fairfax Street.
The march will take place along Lee Highway, a highway made by taking — through eminent domain — land belonging to African Americans and named for the Commander of the Confederate Army, General Robert E. Lee. We wish to honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the national holiday in his honor, but the marchers will not be allowed to walk on the highway honoring Robert E. Lee. Instead, marchers will be allowed to walk along this route on the northern side of the sidewalk for the three blocks to the Falls Church Episcopal. Students from the George Mason High School’s Black Student Alliance will make and display signs to remember those African American families whose land was taken by eminent domain so that we may honor them, as well.
The Social Justice Committee of Falls Church and Vicinity hosts the program following the march. Marchers will be greeted with light refreshments at the church entry on East Fairfax Street. The program will begin at 1:30 p.m. in The Falls Church Episcopal main sanctuary. There will be songs, speeches, a special children’s presentation, tributes and a peace circle. Congressman Don Beyer will attend and make brief remarks. Other presenters include the Rev. Greg Loewer, Colombia Baptist Church; Rabbi Jeffrey Saxe, Temple Rodef Shalom; Dr. Randall Robinson, Baha’is of Falls Church as well as local clergy and members of other faith and community groups.
The Tinner Hill area in Falls Church has been recognized as the location where the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States was initiated. In 1915, The Falls Church town council proposed an ordinance that would have forced many African American property owners to sell their property to whites and move to a section of town designated “For Colored Only.” This was unacceptable to the African American community.
The community immediately mobilized and formed the Colored Citizens Protective League (CCPL), writing letters to each Council member, community churches and businesses asking where they stood on the proposed ordinance. The CCPL wrote a letter to W. E. B. DuBois of the NAACP, asking to form a branch of the newly founded organization whose main purpose was to stop these kinds of discriminatory actions, taking place all too often during the Jim Crow era. The Falls Church town council would not vote on the ordinance, but instead scheduled a referendum vote on the issue for citizens to decide the issue. After the ordinance’s passage, the CCPL challenged the decision in Fairfax County Circuit Court. The judge decided not to rule on the issue, because a case (Warley vs. Buchannan) was coming before the U.S. Supreme Court in the upcoming session. The ruling of the Supreme Court decreed that creating segregated districts within any municipality was unconstitutional, which made the ordinance in Falls Church unenforceable. This meant a victory for the Colored Citizens Protective League, as well.
In 1918, the NAACP changed their by-laws, which allowed smaller communities, like Falls Church and Fairfax County to form branches. The Colored Citizens Protective League received their charter in June 1918. 2018 was the 100th anniversary of the Fairfax County Branch of the NAACP.
The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation is proud to champion the legacy of social justice and civil rights in Falls Church, by sharing the rich history of how ordinary citizens got involved in the struggle for equal rights throughout Northern Virginia. If you go to our website, www.tinnerhill.org and click on “Partnerships,” you will go to a page created through a National Trust for Historic Preservation, “Partnership in Scholarship” Grant which includes photos, documents, oral histories and interviews, and two-hundred-forty articles from The Washington Bee, which tells the story of how African Americans fought Jim Crow.
Please join us on Jan. 21 as we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor those Falls Church individuals who put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stand for justice and establish the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States.
Ed Henderson is founder of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and Irene Chambers is vice president of the foundation.