Despite the chilly weather conditions, dozens of Falls Church residents showed up outside of the Tinner Hill Arch on Monday afternoon to Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation’s Annual Rally and Program to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
According to Tinner Hill’s website, the arch, constructed in 1999, honors the men and women of Tinner Hill who formed the first rural branch of the NAACP. The arch is surrounded by original uncut Tinner quarry stones to protect the arch from collision from vehicular traffic on the nearby road.
Due to the previous day’s snowfall, the march was canceled but the rally and program went on as planned with Representative Don Beyer and Senator Mark Warner in attendance to offer their remarks.
The theme of this year’s event was “Save Our Democracy — Vote,” with remarks focusing on voter suppression and voting rights both in the past and present.
Mayor David Tarter, who was recently elected to his fifth term in the City of Falls Church, kicked off the program with his remarks.
“Over 100 years ago people sought to divide the Tinner Hill community of Falls Church,” began Tarter. “Through gerrymandered voting boundaries and Jim Crow laws that would specify where African Americans could live and own property. This arch behind me [the Tinner Hill Arch] honors the men and women of Tinner Hill who refused to accept this injustice, who successfully challenged those laws and went on to form the first rural branch of the NAACP. It is fitting that we are gathered here today. For this arch is not just about the past, it’s about our future, it’s about ordinary people doing extraordinary things and it can teach us how we as a nation can continue to change for the better.”
Tarter concluded his remarks by encouraging the crowd to “reject those who hate, bully, promote violence and recommit ourselves to justice, compassion, decency and dignity for all.”
Following Tarter’s remarks, Congressman Don Beyer took to the podium to share his thoughts and reflections on the importance of MLK Day.
“This is one of the most powerful days of the year for me,” said Beyer. “Dr. King’s birthday is a day of remembrance, a day to take stock, a day to think about how far we’ve come.”
During his remarks, Beyer also brought up the current filibuster in the senate over voting rights legislation.
“What we forget is that in all of those marches he led, the jailings, the beatings, the arrests, he had to overcome one more thing— the Senate filibuster,” he said to the crowd. “In the Virginia I grew up in, in the 1950s, you still had to pay your poll taxes three years in a row and bring the receipts, you had to pass a literacy test and even then it often wasn’t enough and they would find some way to turn you down. Now the attacks are more subtle, more insidious. The people who are passing this are claiming that they’re going to stop nonexistent voter fraud. The goal is still familiar. It’s to keep people of color from voting.”
Beyer noted the long lines at polling places, limited hours for voting and other barriers that restrict marginalized communities from voting, connecting back to the theme of this year’s event.
“We’ve reacted at the congressional level but they die in the Senate,” said Beyer to the crowd. “I’m certain that if Dr. Martin Luther King was here today he would be fighting to make sure that a small minority of people don’t drive the rest of the country.”
Senator Mark Warner next shared his remarks.
“Everybody quotes so many different things that Dr. King said but I think one of the most powerful things is that all he expected from America was that we would live up to the words of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and laws that all talk about equal rights and that all people are created equal,” said Warner in the beginning of his speech.
He also spoke about the current issues of voter suppression in America during his time making remarks.
“I’m not sure what some of the things that are taking place in these states that have gone about trying to restrict voting rights, I don’t think there’s very much subtle about any of those things when you talk about purging voters, or in Georgia where Black voters wait in line 5 or 10 times longer than white voters or restricting people’s right to get water or food in line,” he continued.
Warner concluded his speech by reminding the crowd that when Coretta Scott King was fighting to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday, she wanted it not to be a day of rest, but rather a day of action.
The program continued with remarks from Edwin Henderson, founder of Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, who provided the crowd with more history of Tinner Hill and the context of civil rights in Falls Church.
“Five score and seven years ago, nine men and some of their wives met at the home of Joseph Tinner because of an ordinance that would have made them sell their homes to whites and then move to an area of town that councilmen had designated for colored only,” shared Henderson with the attendees of the event. “They said ‘no, we will not. We will resist.’ They wrote a letter to W. E. B. Du Bois asking to form a branch of the NAACP here in Falls Church. The letter that came back from his office said that ‘there are no rural branches and we fear for your safety.’ The rule was that you had to get 50 people to sign up to form a charter. However, in small communities like Falls Church, you couldn’t find 50 that were willing to put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stand up against inequality, Jim Crow and injustice.”
Giving his speech in front of the Tinner Hill Civil Rights Monument, Henderson noted that the arch honors those who stood up against the injustice brought towards them.
“Let me talk about the purpose of why we’re here today, which is voting,” he continued. “Let’s save our democracy. We have to vote. We have to get out on midyear elections and we need to change the trend that the president’s party loses in the midterm elections. We have to change this cycle. We have to get out and vote.”
The event concluded with remarks from Homestretch, a local nonprofit organization helping combat homelessness in our community. They shared a powerful quote from Dr. King which states “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”