The civil rights movement in Fauquier County began with a letter written 40 years ago by Maximilian A. Tufts, a banker and retired Marine Corps major who had just been elected president of the Warrenton-Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber wanted to increase its membership and asked Tufts to compose an invitational letter that was sent to town and county businesses and organizations. One of the letters arrived at American Legion Post 360, a black veterans post organized in Warrenton in 1959.
Charles Madison Jr., the town barber, called a meeting of the post's 33 members. No "colored," to use the parlance of the day, business or organization had ever been asked to join the chamber of commerce, and those at the meeting agreed that it would be best to phone Tufts to find out whether the invitation was intended for them.
Tufts said it was and met with a few members to explain that the chamber wanted to include black groups.
American Legion Post 360 thus became the first black organization to join the chamber, and Tufts, J. Henry Berne and the Rev. John Paul "Jack" Carter soon became Post 360's first white Legionnaires.
Aware that within a few weeks two racial barriers had been knocked down, the two groups formed a committee of six whites from the chamber and six blacks from the post to tackle other obstacles, starting with integrating restaurants. Fauquier then had 24,400 residents, one-fourth of whom were black.
Representing the chamber on the committee were Tufts; Berne, the associate director of the Airlie Foundation; John Hume "Jack" Bartenstein, a surveyor; Ted Portnoy, proprietor of Lerner Brothers, Warrenton's largest clothing store; Millard Rewis Jr., the town's Methodist minister; and John Richard Winter, the Presbyterian minister.
"As things began to heat up," Berne wrote in his recollection of events, Winter resigned under pressure from his congregation. Rewis died in an automobile accident. Replacing them were Carter of Grace Episcopal Church, The Plains, and the Rev. Vincent L. Campi of St. John's Roman Catholic Church in Warrenton.
When someone asked Campi whether he could stand up to negative reaction from his parishioners, Berne told me recently that Campi replied, "If they don't like it, I'll excommunicate them."
Representing the American Legion were William Rowe, Roland Tapscott and John E. Williams, all of whom worked for the federal government; Lester Stevens, a teacher at William C. Taylor High School; James Walker, who worked at Blue Ridge Hardware; and Joe Walton, who owned Walton's Auto Body Service.
Recently, I spoke with all of the principals known to be living except for Rowe, who declined to be interviewed. Williams suggested that we meet at Frost's Diner on Broadview Avenue, where he remembered seeing the sign "Dogs and colored not allowed" after he returned from the front lines in Korea.
"At least . . . you could go in the back door and pick up something to carry out," Walton said during our lunch. Tom Frost ran the diner in 1963 when he was also Fauquier's delegate to the Virginia General Assembly.
The popular black restaurants in Warrenton had been Jenkins' lunchroom on South Fifth Street, founded by Beverly Jenkins in 1899 and run by his son, Herman, since 1949; Mamie Bland's Black and Gold, now the Second Street Cafe; and Evelyn and Joe Brown's Hilltop on South Fifth off Main.
Out of town, restaurants for blacks doubled as weekend dance halls and beer parlors. During our lunch at Frost's, Williams and Tapscott mentioned Fleetwood Hall in Rosstown, the black enclave east of Marshall, and Cross Creek, on Lee Highway, 10 miles out of Warrenton in Culpeper County. Walton frowned and said: "When we ate out, we went to Washington. . . . We and the circle I ran in were just as wealthy and educated as any white man."
The committee hoped to integrate Fauquier's restaurants and drugstore lunch counters peacefully, as had been done in 1961 in Middleburg to prevent a planned bus cavalcade from the District by the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
John Eisenhard, then managing editor of the Fauquier Democrat, had discovered that the demonstration was planned for a Sunday when President John F. Kennedy was to attend Mass at Middleburg Community Center. The president's weekend home was then at Glen Ora near Middleburg.
Eisenhard phoned Kennedy's priest, the Rev. Albert Pereria, who contacted Mayor Edwin Reamer, other clergy in town and local restaurant and pharmacy owners. As no one wished to embarrass the president or the town, which had voted for Richard M. Nixon, 181-146, two blacks sipped sodas at Hal Flournoy's Drug Store on April 9, 1961, one day before the planned demonstration. As a result, Middleburg considered its restaurants integrated.
Two years later, CORE was planning a bus cavalcade to Warrenton if town restaurants and public facilities did not integrate. The combined Chamber-Legion committee began meeting in early 1963 at Airlie, a 1,200-acre farm three miles north of Warrenton that had opened as a conference center and retreat in 1960. Unknown to them, leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were convening at Airlie at the same time to plan their March on Washington for Aug. 28.
Eisenhard, in an untitled 1980 history of Airlie, described it as "rural isolation where 'top men in their field' can really concentrate and come away stimulated, refreshed, their unanswered questions answered."
Recently, I spoke with Kimberly Head, whose father, Murdock Head, founded Airlie. She said that he had been "interested in how disciplines were interconnected" and that Airlie was "always considered to be neutral territory. You could come in without any affiliation."
At Berne's suggestion, the 12 committee members did just that. Their first lengthy item of discussion was, according to Berne and Walton, what the six Post 360 men wanted to be called in terms of their race. They chose "black," a word almost unheard of in that era.
Walton had grown up in Fayette County, W.Va., in what he called a "repressive" environment. After his discharge from the Air Force in 1943, he came to Fauquier. He told me that he found the county "very liberal according to the ways of segregation. Ninety-nine percent of my business was white."
Frost, the diner owner and Ford dealer, and Keith Fletcher, the Pontiac dealer, were staunch supporters of segregation and brought their used cars to Walton's shop.
Walton said he had gotten along well with whites in Fauquier but "was not for integration, being born and raised in a segregated society. I didn't believe they [blacks and whites] would even get along." But then, he said, nodding to Tapscott and Williams, "you guys convinced me."
Williams, from Memphis, came to Vint Hill for a short spell in 1952 and then spent two years in Korea as an intelligence specialist. In 1955, after his marriage to Joan Smith, who did not want to live in the Deep South, he settled in Fauquier. As a National Security Agency worker, he, like Tapscott and Rowe, worked in the District, and Williams was concerned that while he was away, large-scale civil rights demonstrations and violence might occur in Fauquier.
Tapscott, whose forebears had farmed in the Double Poplars-Catlett area of Fauquier since before the Civil War, had been a Marine in World War II. He fought at Guadalcanal and elsewhere in the Pacific theater and returned to Fauquier in 1946.
At our lunch, I could sense that Walton and Williams liked to spar gently with each other. Williams was reminding us about when they met with some Peruvian teachers at Airlie in 1963. One asked the group whether the Ku Klux Klan was still active.
After Williams said no, Walton retorted: "I would like to correct that answer. They have come out behind their sheets and their masks, and now they are behind the sheriff's badges and pistols."
Our conversation turned to the role of Eisenhard of the Fauquier Democrat, then the county's only newspaper. The Rev. Joseph C. Hackett's The Circuit, which touted itself as "Northern Virginia's Only Negro Newspaper" and was printed in Catlett, had folded by 1960.
That year, Eisenhard came from Loudoun, where he had been managing editor for publisher Hubert B. Phipps's Loudoun Times-Mirror. Since 1936, Phipps had also published the Democrat.
Eisenhard favored desegregation; Phipps did not. An observer of those years, who asked not to be identified, told me that white help at the Democrat walked through the front door and black help through the back.
Glancing at the Democrat from the early Eisenhard years, one notices that news of the black community was given a prominence not found in the Times-Mirror. Naomi Downing's "Taylor H.S. & Community News" column often appeared on pages two or three. News of the county's high school for black children, William C. Taylor, sometimes made page one.
Only occasionally was there a Phippsian intrusion, such as the reprinting in the Democrat of a June 1963 Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial. It decried "predominantly colored" organizations that refused to accede to President Kennedy's request for a "suspension of public mass demonstrations."
Tapscott told me several times that "John Eisenhard was caught between a rock and a hard place. After work, we'd meet John at the Safeway or a store. He'd give us his thoughts as to what we should do."
In June 1963, members of the Chamber-Post 360 alliance met with restaurant and motel owners in a second-floor room of Fauquier Bank. Berne, in his written recollections of the meeting, recalled that he and Hunter Curtis, owner of the Blue Parrot, a combined motel and restaurant considered to be one of Warrenton's best eateries, went face to face.
"Both of us were sweating," he said. "Both of us were scared. Neither of us would back off. Barney Harris [owner of the newly built Warrenton Motor Lodge, where Outback Steakhouse now stands] left the room for a few minutes and then returned.
" 'What's the news?' someone asked. 'Well,' Barney said, 'I just talked to my brother-in-law in Danville [then a flash point for racial tension in southern Virginia]. He said that out of 60 rooms in his motel, 40 of them are full.'
" 'That's not bad,' said someone. 'Yeah, but they're all state troopers,' said Barney."
"That broke the ice," Berne told me. "Nobody wanted Warrenton to have the same experience." Harris, "a Southerner," persuaded the rest of the restaurateurs to open their establishment to blacks. He died little more than a month after the restaurants desegregated in July.
"Even [J.D.] 'Dusty' Rhodes opened up," Walton said in one of our conversations. "He had once closed up his lunch counter [at Rhodes Drug Store] with a chain to keep you from sitting."
On the day appointed to test the restaurants' new policy, the six black Post 360 members were to eat at different places. Walton recalled that he, his first wife, Gloria, and his mother-in-law, Georgia Brown, ate at Ben & Mary's Steak House. "And who was there sitting on a stool?" Walton said. "Sam Hall [the Fauquier County sheriff], and he stayed there the whole time we were there."
Bartenstein said he and his wife, Elizabeth, were eating that evening at Robert E. Lee Restaurant, now Brown's Wood Stuff, when Tapscott and Williams entered.
"The fellow in the booth next to us kept remarking out loud that he didn't mind a black person eating there, but he didn't approve of a black and white person eating together," Bartenstein said. "Tapscott, you know, is light."
The Democrat broke the story with a brief front-page article July 18, 1963, headlined "Warrenton Restaurants, Lunchrooms Desegregate." The article also noted that "chain stores in the area opened employment opportunities to qualified Negroes," and "the Pitts Fauquier Theatre in Warrenton was also desegregated."
Mayor Byrnal Haley was quoted: "No pressures have been exerted from the outside, and we want none. We wanted to avoid a situation where outsiders could come in and try to tell our people what to do."
A month later, President Kennedy wrote Tufts and the Chamber of Commerce, and Tufts forwarded the letter to Eisenhard with these words: ". . . it is directed to all the people of the County -- who have helped so generously in the effort to maintain tranquillity here while making Fauquier a better place for everyone to live in."
In part, Kennedy's letter read: ". . . regarding the desegregation of restaurants and lunchrooms in Warrenton. Certainly this supports the thesis that the most effective and enduring achievements in the desegregation of public facilities come from the local community."
The 1963 outreach of the Chamber of Commerce and Post 360 would continue through a countywide Human Relations Committee, the forerunner of today's Community Action Committee.
Of those stalwarts of 1963, Bartenstein is now a consulting surveyor in Warrenton. Berne is a psychotherapist in Charlotte, N.C., and his detailed recollections of those years are in the archives of Airlie Conference Center.
Rowe and Tapscott are retired and living in Warrenton and Culpeper, respectively. For service to his home county, Tapscott was the Democrat's "Man of the Year" in 1979.
Walton is retired and living in Woodbridge. Williams has been the Center District's School Board member since 1994, and his recollections of 1963-64 are also in the Airlie archives.
Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.