Civil Rights History & Tinner Hill

Tinner Hill has been recognized as being the location where the first rural branch of the National Association for the Protection of Colored People (NAACP) was initiated in the United States. Following is a synopsis of how that occurred and why it is important.

Throughout the Colonial, Revolutionary, Federal, Civil War and Reconstruction eras, African and Euro-Americans lived adjacent or in close proximity to each other in Falls Church. In the late 19th century, with the rise of Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, there was a rising sentiment among Euro-Americans that African-Americans should not be allowed to reside near Euro-Americans. In 1890, the (then) Town of Falls Church Council voted to cede over 1/3 of its jurisdiction back to Fairfax County because most of the residents were African-Americans. Historical accounts indicate that the underlying reason for the shrinking of the town limits were in reaction to the fear that African-Americans would control the voting outcome of local elections. Insufficient research has been performed on the background of this issue.

On November 9, 1914, Mayor Herndon reported at a Council meeting that he "had been informed that a Negro had rented or was about to rent property at West Falls Church and thought the Council should adopt a segregation ordinance." Dr. Reginald Munson of Munson Hill and Samuel Styles of Cherry Hill then introduced the Town's first segregation ordinance, making it unlawful for any person to sell or rent land or dwellings to the "negro race" within a certain area. Munson and Styles voted in favor of the Ordinance, while Council members Gould, Nourse, and Harmon, voted against.

On December 14, 1914, it was reported at the Council meeting that there was a state law that allowed local jurisdictions "to provide for designation by cities and towns of segregation districts for residence of white and colored persons." The state code stated "the preservation of the public morals, public health and public order, in the cities and towns of this commonwealth is endangered by the residence of white and colored people in close proximity to one another." The ordinance declared that a map must be drawn and publicized six months following the passage by local officials and that the ordinance went into effect one year following passage.

On January 8, the C.C.P.L. held their first meeting at the home of Joseph B. Tinner to determine a course of action to protest the segregation ordinance.

On January 11, 1915, a delegation of African-American citizens called the Colored Citizens Protective League (CCPL) was led by Joseph Tinner and Dr. E.B. Henderson and read papers objecting to the ordinance to the Town Council. The Council apparently did not respond to the objections and passed legislation strengthening the segregation ordinance. The new ordinance passed 4-1, with Council member Harmon voting nay.

On January 18, 1915, the CCPL met at the home of E.B. Henderson and agreed to contact the NAACP and prepare a letter for Town Council.

The Ku Klux Klan was strong in this area at the time. Crosses are known to have been burned on the corner of West Broad and South Washington Street behind the home of Merton Church and also on South Maple Avenue on the property of E. B. Henderson. E.B. Henderson, while he worked in D.C. lived on his farm with his family in Falls Church. His grandmother, Louisa Henderson owned and ran a popular store in the 100 block of South Washington Street. Joseph Tinner lived with his family on Tinner Hill. He was a stone mason who received the majority of his livelihood working for people who lived in Falls Church. By protesting the actions of the majority of citizens in Falls Church on a matter that was as close to religion in their hearts was putting their lives and their families' livelihoods on the line.

On January 20, 1915, Dr. Henderson wrote to his friend, W.E.B. DuBois, reporting about the episodes of recent days and requested permission to organize the CCPL as an affiliate of the NAACP, which DuBois had formed just six years earlier.

While Dr. Henderson was already a member of the NAACP through the D.C. Chapter and was a principle delegate at the national meetings, DuBois and his staff appeared to have reservations about allowing a rural branch to set up office in such a dangerous area.

This affiliation was not accepted for three years (1918). While assisted by NAACP lawyers, the civil rights work in Falls Church was conducted under the title of CCPL or the "Committee of Nine."

The first official CCPL meeting was held at Joseph Tinner's home. Joseph Tinner was elected president and Dr. Henderson was elected secretary. A letter requesting official information on the State and local ordinances was requested.

On May 25, 1915, the Town of Falls Church held a meeting of qualified voters to express by ballot approval or disapproval: "Segregation of the races within the Town." The majority voted in the affirmative.

On June 28, 1915, a special meeting of the Falls Church Town Council accepted the boundaries that would separate "white" from "colored" sections of Falls Church. Thirty-two percent of the population of Falls Church was African-American and would be confined to about 5% of the land.

On June 29, 1915, the CCPL met and sent letters of protest to Councilmen and to local businessmen, such as Horace Brown, owner of Brown’s Hardware Store and local churches. The CCPL targeted businesses as 32% of the population did business with the local stores.

On August 10, 1915, the CCPL retained Councilor T.L. Jones of Washington, D.C. to handle their case against the Town of Falls Church.

On October 19, 1915 the Town Council received a letter from the Fairfax County Circuit Court judge who issued a rule against the town on the segregation ordinance at the instance of T.L. Jones, a colored attorney. The Town Council then hired William Ellison to defend their interests.

The Falls Church Town Council sent its response in November, 1915 to the Circuit Court of Fairfax acknowledging that the Court overrides the Town Council's authority to segregate the community.

In the meantime, lawsuits were brought against Richmond and Ashland, Virginia by some of their local citizens for violating the 14th amendment with their segregation ordinance. The State Supreme Court disagreed and allowed the state and local laws to prevail. So, while other ordinances prevailed, the work of the CCPL delayed the segregation ordinance in Falls Church.

The January 15, 1916 date that was originally stipulated in the Falls Church Ordinance as the date that residential segregation would go into effect passed with Segregation Ordinance not being enforced.

On May 8, 1916, Mayor John Herndon suddenly resigned without any recorded reason.

On June 12, 1916, the Council received an order of the court from Fairfax, referring to a court case brought by "E.B. Henderson, et. al. Petitioners vs. the Town of Falls Church, VA, Defendant." This time the court weighed in favor of the segregation ordinance.

On October 20, 1916, The Town of Falls Church printed the "Segregation Districts" on page 40, Section 87 of its laws. The CCPL continued to challenge the now official law.

Finally, on November 5, 1917, the Supreme Court ruled in Buchanan vs. Warley that no state or municipality in the United States could create segregation districts.

While the Federal government's decision made the Falls Church ordinance null and void, there was no evidence that it was rescinded. (When the Town of Falls Church became a City in 1948, a new set of laws did not include the segregation ordinance. In the late 1990's, the City Council officially rescinded the law and granted a full apology to the citizens of Falls Church.)

In a May 9, 1918 letter from E.B. Henderson to the New York office of the NAACP, stated that as a result of the activities of the CCPL, the segregation law had never been enforced. In that same letter, he repeated an interest in the CCPL becoming an official branch of the NAACP, the national offices agreed. The office agreed that they had proven their capabilities to succeed and to survive.

On June 18, 1918, the branch met for the first time and elected Joseph Tinner as the President, and E. B. Henderson as the Secretary and sent the official application to headquarters. The application was approved by the national headquarters on July 17, 1918.

The local branch in this rural setting is considered the first rural branch of the NAACP From its inception, the branch continued to fight for the civil rights of African-Americans. And its members spread their highly-organized and legalistic methods to other rural localities in Northern Virginia. Other rural branches opened in ensuing years, eventually spreading throughout the South.

While little is known about the civil rights history of Joseph Tinner, much has been written about E. B. Henderson's dedication to civil rights up until his death in 1977. What we do know is that Mr. Tinner was the spokesperson and leader of the groups. Dr. Henderson was the writer and behind-the-scenes organizer. Henderson’s wife, Nell, was known as the promoter who canvassed the area, recruiting members and supporters. Much research is needed to further understand the history and the methods used by these civil rights pioneers who peacefully changed history.

Tinner Hill