Fairfax County will alight with joy and celebration with a variety of opportunities to celebrate Juneteenth this coming weekend (June 17-19).
Just last week on June 6, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors officially recognized Monday, June 19 of this year as Juneteenth. Only recently anointed a state and federal holiday, the occasion commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved men and women in Galveston, Texas finally heard the news that they had been freed two years prior under the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
Below is a sampling of Juneteenth celebrations taking place across the county this weekend.
Fairfax Juneteenth Celebration
Saturday, June 17
Begins at 10 a.m.
Opening ceremony at Veteran Amphitheatre, then parade to Mount Calvary Baptist Church
Co-hosted by the City of Fairfax and Mount Calvary Baptist Church, the Fairfax Juneteenth Celebration will begin with a formal ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Veteran Amphitheatre at City Hall (10455 Armstrong Street), featuring anthem performances and guest speakers.
Following the ceremony, guests are invited to participate in a parade from the amphitheatre to the Mount Calvary Baptist Church entrance on School Street (4325 Chain Bridge Road). From there, festivities will commence, including food trucks, craft and informational vendors, live music and dance, a car show, family activities and sharing of African American history and genealogical resources.
Bull Run Church and Harris Cemetery Juneteenth Celebration
Saturday, June 17
Bull Run Regional Park, behind the Atlantis Waterpark
Returning for a second year in a row, the Juneteenth Celebration at Bull Run (7700 Bull Run Drive) seeks to “recognize the largest private emancipation of the enslaved” as a joint initiative between Virginia NAACP and NOVA Parks, per its website.
Attendees will hear from a guest speaker and participate in a Black Expo and a children’s activity. They are strongly encouraged to bring toddler and children’s books as donations to Centreville United Methodist Church’s local literacy ministry.
Gum Springs Community Day/Juneteenth
Saturday, June 17
10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Park Reservable Picnic Area
This Community Day/Juneteenth celebration commemorates the 190th anniversary of the founding of Gum Springs, the oldest African American community in Fairfax County, by West Ford. The day will begin at the park (8115 Fordson Road) at 10:30 a.m. with a historic marker dedication and unveiling of a new sign with Ford’s story. A parade will kickoff at 11 a.m., and guests can also enjoy an auction, health fair, carnival rides, food and music.
Juneteenth Fairfax County Celebration at Frying Pan Farm Park
Saturday, June 17
11:00 a.m.-2 p.m. (divided into three one-hour-long sessions that you can sign up for here)
Frying Pan Farm Park
In addition to the chance to see adorable farm animals, Frying Pan Farm Park (2709 West Ox Road) is offering families a venue for celebrating Juneteenth. Guests will be able to engage in African American culture and history through “a special guest storyteller, live music, crafts, history, and food trucks offering African American cuisine,” per the county website. Read More
A church is under consideration for the Gum Springs area, according to a proposal filed with Fairfax County this month.
The applicant, Cornerstone Church, is seeking the county’s blessing to develop at 7900 Fordson Road, just across Sherwood Hall Lane from Bethlehem Baptist Church.
The lot is occupied by a 28,989-square-foot single-family house built in 1950, according to county property records. The Cornerstone Church of Christ bought it for $200,000 in 1992.
The existing two-story brick building will function as the church. A shed will be relocated, and a gravel parking lot will be replaced with an 18-spot parking area.
The Nov. 2 special permit application notes that it will involve no changes to the current building.
“The proposed changes and design shall add more previous area to the site via the parking lot in comparison to its existing condition,” Lheep Kim, a principal for Greenway Engineering, wrote in a statement of justification for the application.
According to the application, the lot already provides parking to surrounding areas, resulting in “minimal” changes to traffic and overall impact.
“The church and restructured parking lot shall have no adverse impact on traffic since the church is designed to be for surrounding local community,” the application states. “Therefore, only local neighborhood traffic shall be in consideration, which this existing road is already designed for.”
The area is currently zoned as residential, so using the property as a church requires a special permit from the county.
The church would operate daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, with an estimated 50 patrons visiting and 10 employees staffing the site.
Photo via Google Maps
As motorists make the turn onto Fordson Road from Richmond Highway, they are greeted by a green sign welcoming all to Gum Springs. Underneath the bolded letters, it reads “1833.”
Gum Springs is perhaps the most historically significant Black community in Fairfax County. It was founded nearly two centuries ago by West Ford, a former enslaved person at Mount Vernon who was freed.
What isn’t disputed is that the family of the nation’s first president deeded Ford 160 acres of land. In 1833, he sold that land to purchase 214 acres in what is now the southeastern portion of Fairfax County.
He named this new community “Gum Springs,” supposedly after a tree and a spring where Washington watered his horses.
And, for the last 189 years, Gum Springs has been home to thousands of people that were not necessarily always welcomed in the county.
“Gum Springs gave African-Americans a place of being,” Ron Chase, director of the Gum Springs Historical Society and Museum, told FFXnow on a recent summer afternoon. He’s lived here nearly all of his life and is one of potentially 500 descendants of the original residents. “It gave them a sanctuary. It gave them a place to live.”
But community leaders say Gum Springs’ present and future are now threatened.
Only about 30% of residents who live in the community today are Black, according to 2021 county data.
There are the typical culprits, like urban sprawl, road construction, gentrification, and the exploding house market. But what makes this situation particularly unique is Gum Springs’ contributions to not just county history, but its place in American lore.
“We are constantly being challenged,” Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association, told FFXnow. ” This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, and eliminated for its contribution to this [nation’s] history and to the history of our first president of the United States.”
Preserving the identity of Gum Springs
Both Cox and Chase say there’s a litany of recurring battles that Gum Springs keeps having to fight to keep the community alive.
For one, there’s the exploding housing market, bringing new residents to the historic community. It’s in a major corridor, only a few miles away from Old Town Alexandria, while being a manageable commute from the District. Read More
A popular, family-owned southern comfort food restaurant is taking its sweet potato pie to Hybla Valley.
Della J’s Delectables is moving from its Springfield home of the last five years to Mount Vernon Plaza, right off of Richmond Highway near Gum Springs. It will occupy a space that was formerly a Ruby Tuesday’s.
The plan is to start serving at 7692 Richmond Highway by early August, co-owner Jerry Young tells FFXnow, with the old spot in Springfield remaining open until the new one begins operations.
Young explains that they are moving because of space. The restaurant has taken off recently, with one frequent patron telling FFXnow that lines can snake out of the door. The kitchen can get cramped as well, Young notes, with orders coming in and out.
“We’re busy,” Young said. “And we needed something that’s more accommodating for us, our staff, and the public as well.”
Della J’s, known for its soul food and southern cooking, is named after Young’s mom.
He grew up in Alexandria, right behind what was then called T.C. Williams High School, and as a kid, he used to help his mom cook many of the recipes that are now served at the restaurant.
“We were really close,” he said.
Today, cooking and baking is Young’s passion as well as an activity that reminds him of his mom, who died at the relatively young age of 68. And he’s gotten very good at it.
“Cooking is a huge stress reliever for me,” Young said. “I have this ability to just open the cookbook up, look at a recipe, and pretty much nail it the first or second time.”
Young didn’t actually start out in the restaurant business, working for American Express for nearly four decades before finally retiring in 2017.
Years before, though, he first realized that he could sell the dishes he baked and cooked. One night, he brought over a pumpkin cheesecake to a family dinner. His brother, who is a Marine, loved it so much that he encouraged Young to make more.
“I did what he said and started selling them. I had a knack for it,” he said. Read More
Gum Springs, the oldest Black community in Fairfax County, is holding its Juneteenth celebration this weekend as it faces an uncertain future.
The New Gum Springs Civic Association (NGSCA) will celebrate Juneteenth with a community day tomorrow (Saturday), featuring roller skating, food, music, and words from the great-great-great granddaughter of the community’s founder, West Ford.
There will also be a performance by the Caribbean American International Steel Band, NGSCA President Queenie Cox tells FFXnow, along with a special playing of a song written by Dr. Cleve Francis, a cardiologist at Inova Mount Vernon. The doctor/country musician wrote the song in honor of the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting last month.
The event is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Park (8115 Fordson Road).
West Ford founded the community of Gum Springs in 1833 on land that he purchased after being freed from slavery at Mount Vernon, where he worked under George Washington. There are also claims that Ford was the son of America’s first president, though Mount Vernon officials have denied that.
In the nearly two centuries since its founding, Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon District has become a well-known historically Black community, but it’s now at risk of disappearing.
“We are constantly being challenged,” said Cox, who grew up in Gum Springs and lives in the house her grandfather built in the 1940s. “This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, eliminated and minimized for its contribution to this [nation’s] history.”
Recently, longtime residents have protested changes they fear could erase the community’s history.
Last year, plans for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s long-gestating widening of Richmond Highway shifted, further encroaching on the borders of Gum Springs. The change left a number of residents feeling like their community is being unfairly targeted.
Another community group, the Holland Court Property Owners Association, has also set up within the borders of Gum Springs, a move that the NGSCA views as intentionally trying to minimize the community’s historical impact.
Cox calls those efforts disrespectful and wrong, noting that other Black communities in the region have experienced similar challenges.
“The steps that certain individuals within the community are taking are contributing to the vanishing Black communities, and it diminishes the contribution that those Black communities have made…to American history,” Cox said.
A Gum Springs Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 as an effort to work with the county to preserve the community. However, Cox says that plan hasn’t fully been reviewed by county staff or adopted by the Board of Supervisors in the seven years since.
Celebrations like the one coming this Saturday are important, because they bring people and awareness to the challenges that Fairfax County’s oldest Black community are facing, Cox says.
“The only way that Gum Springs is going to get the protection it needs is that we have to be very vocal and public about it,” Cox said. “Gum Springs has to fight harder in order to get what other communities in the Mount Vernon District has and continues to achieve.”