The word “diverse” is used often to describe the character and demographics of Mason District and Fairfax County today, but a look back at the history of this area reflects the fact that this area has long been “diverse.” We have more languages, faiths, and ethnicities represented today, but the observance of February as Black History Month presents an opportunity to honor the diversity that has sustained the Mason District community for more than a century and a half.
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, near the corner of Columbia Pike and Lincolnia Road was founded by freed slaves in 1867. According to “A Guide to the Historic Sites of Mason District,” published in 2011 with the assistance of Mason District History Commissioner Naomi Zeavin, land for the church was deeded to the congregation by Charles and Eliza Brown of Westchester County, New York. The land was designated for religious and school purposes, and a burying ground. Additional land was acquired for enlargement of the cemetery in 1913. The cemetery, still in active use, contains many marked graves, as well as an unknown number of unmarked graves. An early school for colored children was maintained in the Lincolnia area.
A longtime member of Mt. Pleasant was John Sidney Holland, Jr. (1907-2000), known to everyone as Sid. Sid was an early proponent of desegregation in Fairfax County, and was a driving force behind the creation of the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. Sid eventually became the longest-serving member of the commission, where he advocated for minority rights amid a growing and diverse minority population in the county, according to his daughter, Dorothy Mann, a contributing author to “Fairfax County Stories: 1607 – 2007,” published by Fairfax County to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. The Mt. Pleasant neighborhood still has many descendants of Sid and the early residents who fought for civil rights, integrated schools, and adequate housing when such ideas were not accepted universally by local and state governments.
Houston Summers (1943-2013), an amateur historian and long-time resident of the Bailey’s Crossroads area, wrote an enlightening chapter about the Bell and Summers families in “Fairfax County Stories.”
In his essay, Houston notes that, in the 1800s, a group of families and former slaves and freedmen settled in Bailey’s Crossroads. The road they travelled was extremely difficult, both literally and figuratively, he wrote, and they shared deep religious beliefs that sustained them. In 1881, one acre of land was donated, again by a white citizen, for use as a church or a school. Congregants worshipped outdoors on the wooded lot for several years before a church was constructed in 1920. Named for its donor, B.H. Warner, the Warner Baptist Church was rebuilt in 1962, with another major renovation completed and dedicated in 2005. I still remember the tears of a lifelong member, using a walker, who told me that the new elevator meant that she was able to attend services in the sanctuary for the first time in more than a decade. Hers was just one of many stories that makes Black History Month come alive.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.