A new park and historic site will highlight a piece of the region’s civil rights history.
In 1915, what was then the Town of Falls Church had proposed an ordinance that would prohibit African Americans from being in certain areas of the town after sundown, essentially meaning that they could not live in those areas.
“In the teens, this was going on all over the country,” said Paul Gilbert, director of NOVA Parks, formerly known as the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. “It was really the worst period of time of the Jim Crow era.”
Residents of a small black community on what is now Tinner Hill Road in Falls Church, who would have been forced out of their homes, decided to take action.
E.B. Henderson and Joseph Tinner and some of their friends held a meeting in a private home. They formed a group and then applied to become a branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, itself only a few years old at that point.
It was the first rural branch of the NAACP and the first one in Virginia, as the other chapters at that time were all located in major cities. This NAACP chapter is also the ancestor, of a sort, of the current Fairfax County NAACP chapter, Gilbert said.
“The effort to oppose this ordinance was successful … which meant that they were able to continue to live in their homes,” Gilbert said.
The land where Tinner’s house used to be will now become a small public park and historic site operated by NOVA Parks. The half-acre site spans the line between the City of Falls Church and Fairfax County, which granted NOVA Parks a 99-year lease to the property.
The corners of the former house will be marked with stones, and a set of signs will tell the story of the site’s history.
An artist is creating a sculpture for the site, Gilbert said. It will be a zigzag shape representing the ups and downs of African-American civil rights in this country.
There will also be a new picnic shelter available for formal and informal gatherings.
“It will be a really neat place to mark this unique bit of history,” Gilbert said.
The new park, which will open later this year, will tie in to two other nearby projects highlighting local civil rights history, Gilbert said.
The Reserve at Tinner Hill, a new development of apartments and retail space that is expected to be complete by April 2016, will include a timeline mural that highlights the city’s history, including Tinner Hill and other civil rights events.
A transit hub the city is planning two blocks away will also include signs highlighting the role of transportation in the local civil rights movement.
“We’ll have three sites a few blocks from each other that are telling different parts of the same story,” Gilbert said.