Thursday, February 20, 2014

Regional Parks helps tell story of civil rights through historic site

Tinner Family in the late 1800s
February is National African American History Month, and in Northern Virginia a landmark of the early civil rights movement is closer than ever to being a public historic site that will help people for generations to come learn of the brave actions the civil rights movement is based on.
The Tinner Hill property on the border between the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County will soon be a historic site managed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA). Half the property is owned by the City and half is owned by the County, and both will soon be leasing it to NVRPA. Plans to break ground on the first phase of historical interpretation are planned for this spring. Interpretive efforts will be guided by the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation who has been working to educate the public about this chapter in the civil rights movement for years.
The significance of this site relates to 1915, a troubling time in America. One of the most popular movies of that year was ‘The Birth of a Nation,’ a movie that glamorized the racist Ku Klux Klan. In Northern Virginia, and in many other parts of the country, some of the worst segregation laws were being passed during this period. In the Town of Falls Church, there was an effort to pass a law that would allow African Americans to only live in certain areas. This effort would have displaced many African American families who had lived in the area since the Civil War.
In response to this, Joseph Tinner, a local stone mason, Dr. E. B. Henderson, an area educator, and other civic leaders in the African American community met at Tinner’s house, in an area now called Tinner Hill, and formed an organization that grew into the first rural chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and the first chapter in Virginia. This early chapter of the NAACP is still in existence today as the Fairfax County Chapter of this renowned organization. Tinner, Henderson and the others were successful in their efforts to oppose the segregationist ‘Jim Crow’ law. "No more sacrifice could be asked of anyone than for these people who started this branch of the NAACP, to put their lives and their livelihoods on the line to stand up for their civil rights" noted Edwin B. Henderson II, the grandson of Dr. E.B. Henderson and founder of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. The Foundation has been promoting local African American history for the last 17 years.
"Tinner Hill is not just a Falls Church story, or even just a regional story, it is a Virginia story and even national story because they built the foundation for NAACP chapters around our state and set the bar for what rural chapters should look like across the nation, especially when it comes to advocating for the rights of people of color," stated John T. Chapman, Alexandria City Councilman and former President of the Alexandria Chapter of the NAACP.
If the modern civil rights movement started with the founding of the NAACP in 1909, then the civil rights victory at Tinner Hill was perhaps the first major success of this movement in Northern Virginia. Falls Church Vice Mayor David Snyder remarked, “We celebrate with our partners this critical milestone in assuring that future generations can learn of this community's nonviolent victory for human rights. As Abraham Lincoln stated in his dedicatory remarks at Gettysburg: ‘The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.’”
The Tinner house was taken down in 1966, and today the site is an open half acre lot. The vision for the near term is to create a plaza area with interpretive signs about the historic events of the site. There will be a walkway that runs along the City/County border. This border path will create a great way to show people how there was an effort to only allow African Americans to live on one side of that line, and not the other. There is also a plan to build a picnic shelter, using some of the pink granite that this area is known for, and a stone that Joseph Tinner often used. This will create a gathering place where people can learn about the struggles and victories of the past, and enjoy a great setting.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is known for operating some of the region’s most significant historic sites. From the colonial-era Carlyle House in Alexandria to numerous Civil War sites, including Ball’s Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg, to many other sites of regional and national significance, Tinner Hill Historic Site will help tell an important and little known story of our regional and national struggle for civil rights. “We at NVRPA are excited that the Tinner Hill Historic Site will become part of our operations.  The history and story of Tinner Hill represent a major impact to our region, and NVRPA is pleased to help tell the story,” remarked Barry Buschow, NVRPA Board member.

Providence Supervisor Linda Smyth said, “Many have wanted this historic site to become a reality for years. I am so grateful that all the critical pieces have come into place to make this a reality.”  Because this property is half in the City of Falls Church and half in Fairfax County, and a portion is owned by each of these governments, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority with extensive historic site experience is the perfect entity to develop and manage this site.

This story has been picked up by a number of local media sources including:

Falls Church News-Press

Alexandria News

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