Last week an august ceremony was held in front of the Falls Church City Hall to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the certification by the Commonwealth of Virginia of a new status for Falls Church as an independent city under the commonwealth’s unusual rules governing such matters. Simply put, an independent city is one which is not part of any county, and there are only 41 in the entire U.S. 38 of which are in Virginia. In 1948, Falls Church qualified as a “city of the second class” by virtue of its relatively small population, and a big issue at the time was making sure there was a minimum population of 5,000 to qualify. The News-Press last week marked the occasion with a reprint of the front page of the city’s then weekly newspaper, the Falls Church Echo, and the banner headline of its August 20, 1948 issue, “Falls Church Becomes a City.”
Falls Church City Council member Marybeth Connelly marked the 75th anniversary occasion at the annual convocation of City school employees last week with a presentation on the history of the city, which she said will be repeated many times over the course of the coming year’s array of anniversary events.
From our perspective, it is important to underscore one key element in all this, which is to dispel the false myth that the City was carved out in an attempt to prevent the racial integration of its schools. If anything, the opposite is true.
Just into our second decade of serving Falls Church, our paper’s founder, owner and editor tasked a young and enterprising reporter, Darien Bates, with putting aside all his other work to devote all his time to exploring the true history of the integration of the Falls Church School System in the early 1950s. The talented Mr. Bates jumped into the work, spending days upon end for two months examining the minutes and other records of the Falls Church School Board and City Council, at the Virginia History room of the Mary Riley Styles Public Library and on the phone and in person with interviews with the key players in that period. His work culminated in a lengthy two-part series that was published in the September 29 and October 6, 2005, editions of the News-Press. Nothing of this nature had been done up to that point, and the long and short of it was the finding that key people on the City’s School Board pressed the issue of integration repeatedly.
It turns out that the City’s founding owed primarily to the efforts of progressives from the FDR New Deal era to carve out the basis for an independent city and school system to protect it from segregationist influences around it, and not the other way around. If there was a time when the Falls Church, then as a town, was guilty of loping off Black neighborhoods, which it was, that was in the 1870s and not 1948.