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Black/African American Historical Marker Project

an example of an existing Fairfax County historical marker
Example of an existing Fairfax County historical marker.

In 2021, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors initiated the Black/African American Historical Marker Project to help ensure a more comprehensive and inclusive telling of Fairfax County’s diverse history, including the Black/African American experience.

The Board invited local youth to nominate people and places significant to the African American community for the new markers, which commemorate an event, person or location of historical significance within the county.

A total of 53 nominations were received from individual students, classes and scout troops.

  • Below are the fourteen finalists chosen by the Project’s Voting Committee, which was composed of representatives appointed by each member of the Board of Supervisors, community organizations, and FCPS Student Equity Leads.
  • The final six nominations (numbered and listed first) were chosen by four members of the Fairfax County History Commission based on feasibility, historical accuracy, and location within the county.

14 Finalists for Proposed Historical Markers

Dates: (1885-1983) or Harper vs. Virginia Board of Elections, March 6, 1966.

District: Mount Vernon

Submitted by 4th grade students, sponsored by Maura Keaney of Island Creek Elementary School

Description from students: Annie Harper, Curtis and Myrtle Burr, and Gladys Berry filed a lawsuit in 1964 challenging the constitutionality of Virginia's poll tax. The lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court. Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections was decided in 1966 declaring the poll tax unconstitutional. Annie Harper was 79 years old and lived in the Gum Springs neighborhood of Fairfax County.

General Colin Powell
Image from United States Joint Chiefs of Staff

District: Dranesville

Submitted by Caroline Fox, 17 years old

Proposed Location of Marker: Ballantrae Farms neighborhood in McLean, VA (OR) 6715 Georgetown Pike in front of St. John's Episcopal Church in McLean, VA (OR) another central location in McLean, such as McLean Central Park or at the intersection of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road in McLean, VA

Submission Description written by student: I am 17 years old and a lifelong parishioner of St. John’s Episcopal Church in McLean. I started singing in my church choir when I was seven. My mom used to drop me off for choir practice at 8:00 am, which was when parishioners from the earlier 7:15 church service were departing. On many Sundays as I was entering church, I would cross paths with a quiet older gentleman who, without fail, would stop to smile and greet me with a happy “good morning!” It was not until many years later that I learned this kind and humble man was a four star general and former secretary of state, General Colin Powell. I believe General Powell, a longtime resident of Fairfax County, deserves to be honored with a plaque because of his service to our country, both on the national and community level.

Dates: Date of birth: 1911 Date of Death: May 10, 1996 Date of lawsuit: May 17, 1963
District: Providence/Hunter Mill

Submitted by Meron Fikru, Delano Telford, Maddie Haag, 11th and 12th grade students from South County High School

Description from students: Lillian Blackwell was a Fairfax County civil rights activist who aided in desegregating Fairfax County. An Arlington woman along with Blackwell sued the federal court for refusing to sell tickets to African Americans and segregated seating; the jury panel would later rule that segregated seating was unconstitutional. Blackwell was a Fairfax County member of the Human Relations Council, a member of The Friends of the Library organization, a membership chairman of the NAACP, a founding member in Fairfax of the National Council of Negro Women, a founding member of Black Women United for Action, and a member of Fairfax County Fair Housing.

Louise Archer
Image from Library of Virginia

Submission for Proposed Historical Marker: Louise Archer, the person

Dates: 1893 - 1948; Founded current school building in 1939
District: Hunter Mill

Submitted by 4th graders, sponsored by Anne Marie Harris from Louise Archer Elementary

Description from students: Mrs. Louise Archer was influential as an educational leader in the Vienna community for many years. She worked to have a new school constructed, which came to fruition in 1939, with a three-room schoolhouse built on Nutley Street, Louise Archer Elementary' s current location.

Dates: October 23, 1893–April 1, 1948
District: Hunter Mill

Submitted by Sydney Guthrie, 10th grade student from James Madison High School and Hunter Guthrie, 8th grade student from Luther Jackson Middle School

Description from students: In 1922, Louise Archer became the teacher and principal for a one-room segregated school in Vienna. She taught academic subjects as well as sewing, cooking, music, and poetry. Ms. Archer drove students to school, organized a PTA, established one of the earliest 4H clubs for African Americans, and helped cultivate a garden and the resulting produce was used when preparing school lunches.

Gunnell's Chapel
Gunnell's Chapel; credit: Ronald J. Baumgarten Jr. Feb. 20, 2011

Date: 1880s

District: Dranesville

Submitted by 4th and 5th grade students sponsored by Stephanie Duffield and Patti Gray from Haycock Elementary

Proposed location: 6324 Georgetown Pike Mclean, VA

Description from students: Dear Fairfax County, there should be more historical markers to teach people in the area about our past. Following that idea, we would appreciate it if Gunnell’s Chapel could become a historical marker. It was a church where black people could go without being criticized. This was not a common thing in the 1880s. Gunnell’s Chapel was also used as a schoolhouse where black children could learn without being discriminated against. The owner of Gunnells chapel, Robert Gunnell was an enslaved black man who obtained his freedom from slavery in 1856. He built the farmhouse and made it usable to other black people in 1879.

Date: December 20, 1856
District: Springfield

Submitted by Applied History Class, 2021-22, sponsored by Brian Heintz

Description from class: The will and estate inventory of the land on which West Springfield High School resides from this date included the following enslaved individuals and their “values”: 1856, December 20th Slaves:

  • “Charles” aged about 27, $1000.00
  •  “John’’ age 30, $1000.00
  • “Peter’’ age 25,  $1000.00
  • “Henry’’ age 35, $1000.00
  • “Louisa’’ age 22, $800.00
  • “Hannah & Child’’ age 29, $900.00
  •  “Harriet” aged about 38, $800.00
  • “Sally’’ age 56, $100.00
  • “Daniel’’ age 11, $500.00
  • “Laura’’ age 9, $300.00
  • “Ann’’ age 9, $300.00
  • “Sandy’’ age 6, $250.00
  • “Sealy’’ age 7, $200.00
  • “Bill’’ age 4, $200.00
  • “Cora’’ age 4, $150.00

Though deprived of family names, liberty, and dignity, they lived and labored here. While their histories are not recorded, their lives and legacy should be remembered.

Date: Early 1860s
District: Dranesville

Submitted by 4th and 5th graders sponsored by Stephanie Duffield and Patti Gray from Haycock Elementary School

Description from students: Camp Beckwith was one of the 5 main contraband camps during the Civil War. It used to be a historical site, but unfortunately, it was burned down. Therefore, people are not able to visit it today. It provided for many African-Americans that ran away, giving them homes, food, water, and space to farm.

Date: The Dulany Plantation existed prior to 1812 until it was sold to Silas Tripp in 1869.
District: Springfield

Submitted by Girl Scout Troop 3686, 6-8th grade students sponsored by Camille McCarthy, Nancy Hanson, Jennie Moonis, Pine Spring Elementary School, Graham Road Elementary School, Mantua Elementary School and Luther Jackson Middle School.

Proposed Location of Marker: Near 6713 Jefferson Avenue

Description from Girl Scout Troup 3686: This Neighborhood was originally part of the Dulany Plantation and people were enslaved on this plantation. Parts of this neighborhood were at one time a part of Falls Church city and owned by African Americans.

Dates: He was born on the 24th of November 1883 in Washington, D.C. and died on the 3rd of February, 1977 in Tuskegee, AL.

District: Mason/Providence

Submitted by Niyat Asefaw 12th grader

Description from student: Edwin Bancroft Henderson, was an American educator and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People pioneer. The "Father of Black Basketball", introduced basketball to African Americans in Washington, D.C., in 1904, and was Washington's first male African American physical education teacher. In 1982, Fairfax County dedicated its Providence Recreation Center in Edwin Henderson's honor. In 1907, he created a league for African-American basketball teams in Washington, D.C. Henderson pioneered physical education programs in Washington’s segregated public schools. He improved local sports facilities, organized the first track meets for African-American high schools and colleges, and created athletic associations to foster a culture of athletic competition in the black community.

Forestville Colored School
Image from Fairfax County Public Schools

Dates: 1870 - 1922

District: Dranesville

Submitted by 4th and 5th grade students sponsored by Stephanie Duffield and Patti Gray from Haycock Elementary School

Description from students: Forestville Colored School taught black children from 1870 - 1922. Forestville Colored School was built on a one acre lot, donated by William Rowzee and his wife Clara Rowzee. The reason Forestville Colored School only taught black children is because of segregation that started from 1865 and ended in 1964.

Galloway Cemetery
An early 20th century photo of Galloway United Methodist Church, originally built in 1867 as Watkins Chapel.

Dates: 1867

District: Mason

Submitted by Girl Scout Troop 3686 (6th-8th graders), sponsored by Camille McCarthy, Nancy Hanson, Jennie Moonis; 6th grade through 8th grade, Pine Spring Elementary School, Graham Road Elementary School, Mantua Elementary School and Luther Jackson Middle School.

Proposed location of marker : Galloway Cemetery, behind 306 Annandale Road in Falls Church.

Description from students: This location was originally a part of the Dulany Plantation where people were enslaved. These enslaved people secretly met and worshiped among the trees near or close to what is now the cemetery. The Cemetery holds the gravesites of many prominent contributors to black history including Harriet Foot Turner who escaped slavery from the Coot-Fitzhugh plantation and lead enslaved people to Canada. Luna Mars whose owner was the father of her daughter Lousia Mars who later married William Henderson. George and Harriet Brice had a farm here and established the church are buried in the cemetery. Many from the Tinner and Henderson families who were instrumental in establishing the first rural branch of the NAACP are buried here.

Dr. Luther Jackson
Image from Fairfax County Public Schools

Dates: Born: July 11, 1892 died: January 20, 1950

District: Mason/Providence

Submitted by Janea Kinder, Josephine Springer, and Jamaria Miles, 11th grade students from South County High School.

Description from students: He was a member of the Fairfax County NAACP and an activist for black rights. He aided in founding the Petersburg League of Negro Voters in 1935 and had a school named after him called Luther Jackson HS (now middle school). He wrote in a newspaper advocating against segregation in the Richmond Transit system weekly. Its title being “Rights and Duties in a Democracy.” He was an important figure in Fairfax County history and the effects of his activism will be remembered.

Mary Ellen Henderson
Image from Falls Church City Public Schools

Dates: Birth: 09-18-1885 Died: 02-04-1976 1910. Started teaching at James E. Lee elementary school 1911.

District: Mason/Providence

Submitted by Carissa Christensen 11th grade student from South County High School

Description from student: Henderson started working at James E. Lee Elementary school so the school would not be shut down, since it was the only “colored school” around. The conditions at the school were terrible, and for 30 years she advocated for a better school or more funding. This was pushed forward with the publication of her book Our Disgrace and Shame: School Facilities for Negro Children in Fairfax County in 1945. The study was so compelling that in 1948, 3 years later, a new James E. Lee elementary was built.



In partnership with George Mason University, the Fairfax County History Commission created the African American History Inventory to aid in researching the histories of African American communities in the county.  

There is also a Historical Marker Story Map available to view current Historical Markers in the county.

The Virginia Room research guide includes books, school yearbooks, oral histories, manuscript collections, photographs, and subject files on local Black/African American history.

FCPS developed the Untold Stories of Fairfax County Black / African American History Project Based Learning experience

The Gum Springs Museum website offers online exhibits about this community, founded by West Ford, a freed slave.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant