Progressives Founded Falls Church City

A couple weeks ago, in our August 24-30, 2023 edition, the editorial in this space, entitled “Happy 75th Birthday, City of Falls Church” concluded with a paragraph that, as we have subsequently learned, pleasantly surprised a lot of people. It read as follows:

“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 Falls Church, then as a town, was guilty of lopping off Black neighborhoods, which it was, that was in the 1870s and not 1948.”

This reality, as presented by Council member Marybeth Connelly in her presentation at the City Schools’ convocation last month (that she promises to repeat often in the coming 75th anniversary year) is proving important to stress, as there has been a lot of confusion and misinformation floating around that wrongly attributes the founding of Falls Church as an “independent city” in 1948 to efforts at advancing segregation. Not true. Not true at all.

In fact, Falls Church’s elevation to “independent city” status 75 years ago, in the years after the death of FDR and the end of World War II, was executed by persons, many of whom served in the 12 years of the FDR administration and among its congressional allies, deeply dedicated to racial justice and social and economic equality.

These are the people we look forward to learning about more during the coming year-long celebration of Falls Church’s 75 years through a series of profiles and articles we hope will be published in the News-Press.

Among them are seminal figures like one of the City’s earliest mayors, Herman L. Fink, Hal Silverstein, Roger Wollenberg and Lou Olom, who were also instrumental in the creation and development of the Temple Rodef Shalom, located just outside the City limits.

The founders of the new independent city exhibited a bit of a siege and stealth mentality. They were surrounded by often radically pro-segregationist elements, as exemplified by their naming of street signs and schools in the 1950s after Confederate generals and leaders, like Lee, Jeb Stuart and Jefferson Davis, that it has taken more than 100 years since the Civil War was decided, to subsequently change. In fact, it was as late as the 1950s that a lot of the most angry attempts at honoring the legacy of Confederates took place in this area, in the years following the founding of the City of Falls Church. Falls Church mostly avoided any such naming here. By contrast, one of the City’s main arteries was named Lincoln Avenue.

In the early years as an independent city, Falls Church student athletes, their parents and fans were frequently subjected to acts of vandalism and violence when they showed up for games in other locales.