Think of the battles for civil rights, and cities come to mind like Selma, Little Rock, Birmingham--but probably not Falls Church.
Today, a group of city residents wants to change that. At 6:30 p.m. on a corner of South Washington Street, they plan to unveil a 15-foot granite monument, hoping it will put their little city on the map of civil rights history.
The pinkish stone archway honors two African Americans, Joseph Tinner and Edwin B. Henderson, who fought segregation in their community almost 85 years ago by successfully attacking a city ordinance that sought to confine black residents to a tiny corner of the town. The two went on to found what is believed to be the nation's first rural NAACP branch.
For those who raised money to build the monument, it symbolizes history that needs to be recognized and remembered.
"Frankly, this history was lost," Mayor David Snyder said. "We owe it to future generations that this is never lost again."
The pinkish stone arch occupies a corner of what was once known as Tinner Hill, where Tinner and Henderson lived in January 1915, when the town council passed an ordinance that would have forced all blacks to live in the same neighborhood. Defying threats and the local Ku Klux Klan, Henderson organized the NAACP branch, which Tinner headed. Henderson then filed a lawsuit challenging the ordinance.
The law, never enforced, was nullified by court order in 1917. Tinner and Henderson went on to help black leaders form NAACP chapters in other neighboring rural areas.
Unearthing this history was largely the work of Dave Eckert, 51, a Falls Church resident and history buff, who moved to the city more than a decade ago and began reading up on his new home.
None of the city histories mentioned anything about Tinner or Henderson. Eckert learned about them in 1993 when a discount retailer wanted to develop part of the area around Tinner Hill. Henderson's son, then living in Alabama, refused to sell his father's house, which he still owned. Intrigued, Eckert called the son, who told Eckert about his father and how for sentimental reasons he wanted to keep the house.
Inspired by Henderson's story, Eckert and several neighbors started an annual street festival in Tinner Hill in 1994 to promote the history of the blacks who had once lived there. Gradually, word of Tinner and Henderson's legacy spread.
As a result, in February, the City Council officially repudiated the 1915 ordinance.
"I couldn't believe it. I read all these books on Falls Church history, and I never heard anything about this," Eckert said.
With a $20,000 grant from the Virginia General Assembly and volunteer help from Falls Church residents, Eckert and others began plans for the memorial. They decided to build it with stone that came from the quarry where Tinner had worked, cutting much of the stone used in the foundations of Falls Church buildings. As buildings have been demolished, residents have collected the old stone, stacking it in back lots and gardens. Eckert and others gathered 16 tons from 26 sites in Falls Church.
But the memorial is just the first step, according to Snyder, the mayor. Today, the City Council also plans to vote to spend $150,000 to buy a site near where Joseph Tinner's home stood and build a replica of the house as a black history museum.
But for now, Edwin B. Henderson II, 44, who is a grandson of the early civil rights fighter and who lives just a few blocks from the monument, is just happy to see the memorial.
"You heard about the Civil War and things like that, but no one talked about the significance of Falls Church in the fight against segregation and that my grandfather was very active in trying to eliminate racial discrimination," Henderson said. "This gives us a great sense of pride."
CAPTION: Dave Eckert, left, a Falls Church resident and history buff, and Edwin B. Henderson II stand near the memorial. Eckert dug up information about NAACP pioneers Joseph Tinner and Edwin B. Henderson, the younger man's grandfather.