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Not to Run From History, But to Learn From It

From Falls Church News-Press Guest Commentary By John Ohmer & Nikki Graves Henderson

This Saturday, The Falls Church and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation will jointly dedicate a stone sidewalk plaque in front of the historic building of The Falls Church. The intention of this plaque is to convey to the public that we hold in our hearts deep regret, and with gratitude and repentance we honor the enslaved people who built The Falls Church.

As Congressman Gary Ackerman said in 2012 about a similar proposed acknowledgement regarding the construction of the White House, “While slavery is no moment worthy of national pride, the American way has always been to acknowledge our wrongs and constantly strive for better. It is wrong not to acknowledge wrongs. An acknowledgment of the role of slave labor…would be an important symbol that the United States does not run from its history, but rather learns from it.”

What the Congressman said of Americans and American history — that Americans do not run from our history, but rather learn from it — we are saying, all the more, of Christians and Christian history: we do not run from it, but rather learn from it.

While many Christians opposed the sin of slavery and were central to the abolitionist movement, it’s a tragic part of our history that many Christians were complicit in, apologists for, and beneficiaries of the evil of slavery. On Saturday we will acknowledge — more than acknowledge, we will literally carve in stone our repentance of — that fact.

By so doing, we hope to do at least two things.

First, we hope to correct an error, by omission, of the church history we present to the public in the form of commemorative plaques.

The buildings and grounds of The Falls Church display several signs and plaques that acknowledge famous people associated with the church. There are signs about the church’s foundation, its construction, and its architect, James Wren. There is a city of Falls Church historic marker, commemorative stones for Confederate and Union soldiers who lost their lives in the Civil War, a Civil War Trail marker and a Virginia State Historical Marker.

It was a relationship between the leadership of The Falls Church and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation that led to an effort to correct the historical error, by omission, of the role that enslaved peoples played in the construction of The Falls Church. Many of the descendants of enslaved and free residents still live, work and worship in the area.

In 2003, several members of The Falls Church and the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation began to independently research the history of the construction of our 1769 historic brick church building. Over the ensuring years, the two efforts came together in the forming of The Falls Church Enslaved Workers Acknowledgement Committee, which continued researching historical documents and speaking with local historians, researchers, and city residents.

One result of their efforts was to develop language to be used on the commemorative plaque that will placed this Saturday next to the James Wren plaque on the sidewalk outside our historic church.

The exact language of the plaque is “With gratitude and repentance we honor the enslaved people whose skill and labor helped build The Falls Church.”

The language of “repentance” brings us to the second hope we have in taking this action. The very fact of placing the plaque is intended as an apology – itself a difficult thing to come by, and rife with risk of controversy. But when it comes to Christian complicity with slavery, apologizing is necessary, but not sufficient: the United States today — and not coincidently, much of Christianity today — still suffers from the hangover of our noxious slave-holding past in the form of individual, ecclesial, and cultural racism.

And so we wish to express repentance: a change in intention, direction, and most importantly, behavior. While “apology” is important, absent a change in behavior, it can stay in the realm of emotion and mere talk. “Repentance” is a theological and biblical term that conveys not only a sense of deep regret, but an intention to change one’s behaviors.

The plaque is therefore meant to convey, to all who pass by our hallowed buildings and grounds, that we hold in our hearts the deepest regret that enslaved peoples built The Falls Church, and with gratitude and repentance we honor them. We honor them by not running from our history, but learning from it, and working together to reconcile all people to God and to one another.

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Tinner Hill Foundation Thanks Community

From Falls Church News-Press Letters to the Editor: February 23 – March 1, 2017


As we come to the end of Black History month, the board of directors of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation wishes to thank the many Falls Church residents who participated in our events this month and in the 550-plus person march from the Tinner Hill Arch to City Hall on Martin Luther King’s birthday last month. Special thanks to actor and playwright Ted Lange, who came from Hollywood to oversee our production of his new play “George Washington’s Boy” at the Falls Church Episcopal last weekend.

Cheryl Rhoads and the students from her Falls Church-based acting school presented a riveting interpretation of Ted’s creation, emphasizing George Washington’s personal struggle reconciling his leadership as commander-in-chief in the American Revolution and as our first president with his ownership of slaves.

Thanks to Howard University’s WHUT-TV for interviewing Ted. Many new participants in our activities learned about us through that interview. The newcomers — most from neighboring areas but some from as far as New England, the Carolinas, the Middle West and Southwest, and a few from the West Coast — reported overwhelmingly that they patronized local Falls Church City restaurants, motels and stores during their visit. Most said they enjoyed getting to know what our community offers and plan to return to Falls Church when they visit Washington.

We could not succeed without the support of our contributors from the business community. Mike Beyer of Don Beyer Volvo will be hosting a Tinner Hill information sharing meeting on “Doing Good and Getting the Most for Your Charitable Contributions.” To learn more, please go to the contact page at

Special thanks to the News-Press, Creative Cauldron and the local Chamber for your help. Finally, to all our volunteers: We know how hard you worked for these successes. Thank you!

Alex Boston

President, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation

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On Eve of Trump Tenure, First Ever March in F.C. Touts Racial Healing

Tinner Hill Foundation Secretary Michael Everett leads marchers through Falls Church during the City’s first-ever Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march Monday. Photo credit: J. Michael Whalen

Preaching racial unity, openness and collective responsibility, hundreds of protesters channeled the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday’s holiday, marching through Falls Church in a historic first for the 70-year-old city.

Peaceful marchers, armed with signs reading “Love not hate” and “Unity is power” among others, began at the Tinner Hill Historic Monument, where 100 years ago the first rural branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People fought for equality against the segregated City of Falls Church. (See photos of the march here.)

The eclectic group of protesters wound their way to F.C. City Hall, chanting “We need unity!” and “We want peace!” in a call and response that harkened back to King’s Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and ’70s.

The official crowd total was 561 according to Curt Westergard of Digital Design & Imaging Service, Inc.

While Ed Henderson, executive director of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, made it clear that the MLK Day march was not a reaction to the November election, there was no mistaking the impact of president-elect Donald Trump on the tone and tenor of the participants.

“The days since November 8th have been among the most interesting and trying of my life,” U.S. Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., (D) who represents the 8th District of Virginia, including the City of Falls Church, told the crowd on the steps of City Hall. “I’m sure for many of you, too.”

But, Byer added, this anger and despondency has the potential to be transferred into collective action.

“What I have seen across Virginia, especially Northern Virginia, since November 8th,” he said, “is a lot of people, and not just Democrats, but people all across the political spectrum, more energized, more passionate, more determined to make a difference with our lives than ever before.”

U.S. Rep. Don Beyer speaks at Falls Church City Hall during Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events. Photo credit: Jared Wood

This sense of collective action, of working with others to combat the sense of dread and divisiveness, resonated with many of the marchers.

“It’s time to get active and it’s time to hit the streets,” said Marc Robarge, an art teacher at George Mason High School and longtime Falls Church resident. “When you put feet on the ground, when you take time out of your day when you could be doing other things, there’s a synergy that happens.”

“Our country is divided right now,” said Robert Tart, a U.S. Department of Justice employee and Falls Church resident. “We gotta bring that back together again. We can fight – we don’t like what this one’s saying, we don’t like what that one’s saying – but we gotta get over our own selves and we gotta make sure we move toward working for everybody. Once we do that, we’re good.”

After the march, hundreds packed into City Hall for a panel discussion and viewing of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

Befitting the day, the program began with a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the James Weldon Johnson poem often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem.”

The panelists, who represented a wide swath of local community organizations, noted the challenges regarding race relations and political divisiveness, and offered advice on how to take action.

Garland Nixon, an ACLU board member, local talk show host and former police officer, said it’s important for people to acknowledge their racial biases.

“If you’ve lived in America and don’t have racial hang-ups,” he said, “that’s like swimming in a pool and not getting wet.”

Walter Tejada, chair of the Virginia Latino Leaders Council, spoke about the blowback faced by immigrants and the need to stand up for progressive values.

One of the fundamental ways to affect positive change, said Raheema Abdullah Karim, White House Senior Associate General Counsel, is to “work from a position of empowerment and not a position of fear.”

“It’s so important to not be afraid of what’s going to come but be empowered to say, ‘we are going to make a difference,’” Karim said. “We’re going to make sure that even the most vulnerable in our communities are protected.”

At the end of the program, Nikki Graves Henderson, co-host of the MLK event, reminded the audience of what Dr. King referred to as “the fierce urgency of now.”

“This is not business as usual,” Henderson said. “It’s time to get to work.”

Oringally published by Falls Church News-Press by Sam Tabachnik

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SOLD OUT Bus Trip to National African American Museum of History & Culture FEB 12

Yes, we have got the hottest tickets in town! Join us to celebrate Black History Month on Sunday, Feb. 12th with a bus trip to the Smithsonian's newest museum! Seats are $25.00, departing & returning to the Tinner Hill Historic Site BUY YOUR SEAT (106 Tinner Hill Road, Falls Church, VA) to the museum in DC  and includes a FREE 2 pm timed entry ticket for the museum!  

You'll enjoy help navigating through the museum from a seasoned museum professional plus map and museum guide booklet.

You can purchase tickets for the bus trip here.

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Stephanie Meeks, President of National Trust for Historic Preservation, visits Tinner Hill

In the news - President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stephanie Meeks' recent visit to Tinner Hill.

Read the complete article, Visiting Tinner Hill: Local History, National Significance, from the PreservationNation Blog

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Call it the Blues Art Show - Opens FIRSTfriday, June 1

Call it the Blues is a juried, all-media exhibition focusing on the meaning of the "blues" from an artist perspective. As part of the Tinner Hill Blues Festival, Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation is participating in FIRSTfriday of Falls Church.  Art and Frame of Falls Church, owned by Tom Gittins, is hosting the exhibition. The show's interpretation of "the blues" is very liberal and includes works of art that explore the nature of blues music, literature, or history; interpret or reflect the emotions and events inspired or evoked by the "blues"; focus on blues performers; or even explore the "hue of blue".  The top three finalists won cash awards!  The show was jurored by artist Kitty Caparella.


The exhibition will open on Friday, June 1 with a reception and Meet the Artist at Art and Frame of Falls Church from 6-8 pm and closes on Monday, July 1.  Art and Frame of Falls Church Opening reception 

Artists talk at 7:10 pm

The show is  being organized by Irena Chambers, an artist and Special Projects Director for Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.


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