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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New historic marker commemorates a vanished black community

Descendants of the families who created The Pines. 
Families in the small African-American community in Annandale called the The Pines tended their gardens, fished in a pond, had sleigh rides, went to church, sang together, and enjoyed Sunday dinners of baked chicken, greens, mashed potatoes, ice cream, and four-layer cake.  

“It was a vital, happy community,” said Naomi Zeavin, the Mason District representative on the Fairfax County History Commission.

All that ended in the 1960s when Fairfax County took the residents’ land by eminent domain to build a new high school. The school was never built, and the land eventually became the site of Pine Ridge Park. All that’s left of the Pines is the small Liberty Lodge Cemetery at the edge of park.

Family life in The Pines.
Descendants of the families who lived at The Pines shared their memories at a ceremony Oct. 15 in the park to dedicate a historic marker commemorating the lost community.

Marian Dobbins, a historian and great, great granddaughter of William Collins Sr., one of the founders of the The Pines, was a child when her grandmother, Myra Collins, had to leave. Growing up, Dobbins heard many stories about life in the community from her grandmother. As a result, Dobbins made it her mission to document The Pines and push for the county to recognize it.

The historic marker is “a tribute to the importance and affection for what was known as The Pines,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross at the dedication ceremony. 

In 1905 William Collins Sr., the descendant of freed slaves, bought 22 acres there with money he saved from serving with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish American War. The Johnson, Robinson, and Sprigg families soon purchased lots, too. They operated small truck farms, selling their produce in Washington, D.C., set up a saw mill, and worshiped at First Baptist Church of Merrifield.  
Marian Dobbins speaks at the historic marker dedication in Pine Ridge Park. Behind her are, from the left: members of The Pines families Joyce Gray, Avonjeanette Hall, and Shirley Robinson; Mason Supervisor Penny Gross; and Park Authority Board member Frank Vajda. Rev. Martin Pickett, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Merrifield is hidden behind Dobbins.
When Fairfax County decided it needed to build another high school following desegregation, it forced the residents of The Pines to sell their land. After years of litigation, the residents were given 60 days to vacate the homes that had been in their families for generations.

“It was a turbulent time of great change and turmoil,” Gross said. “People had to find a new sense of community.”

“We can’t get your land back but we can say we’re sorry,” said Zeavin. “With the historic marker, people will know you were here.”

“Like Brigadoon, The Pines vanished into the mist, but our memories are as strong as ever,” said Frank Vajda, the Mason District representative on the Fairfax County Park Authority Board

“The Pines was filled with love, it was filled with laughter, it was filled with food, and music, and God,” said Avonjeanette Hill, who lived there as a child. “It was extremely comforting to have a place that was secure.”

She spoke about how her father, William Collins Jr., had a library and music room in the house and everyone gathered around the piano after church on Sunday to sing gospel songs.

The cemetery is all that's left of The Pines.
When the families were forced to vacate their homes, “it broke my family’s heart,” Hill said. By then her parents were in their 70s and they had a hard time find a place to live that would accept blacks. Having to get a mortgage was a financial hardship, too. Several residents of The Pines relocated to Williamstown, an African American community in Falls Church.

“Adding insult to injury,” Hill said, the school was never built, and the land remained vacant for seven years. “Instead of giving the land back, they put up a soccer field on top of people’s graves. No apologies were ever given.”

The men who first settled The Pines “didn’t have an education, but they had pride,” said Shirley Robinson, a great granddaughter of one the first settlers, William Robinson. “They wanted to own their own land. They didn’t want to be sharecroppers.”

“Today is the day families honor their ancestors,” Dobbins said. “This is the day we remember the men of The Pines who fought for their country as second-class citizens. We will never forget our ancestors who created a public space of refuge and kinship.” 

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for this story. What a sadness that a vibrant community was dismantled for a public project that was never built. Glad there's now a historical marker for education and tribute.

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  2. Apparently Mason district is capable of acknowledging African-American history and having a high school named after a confederate general. History is messy and complicated. We have a duty as a community to tell that history. The juxtaposition of these two news stories is downright American. Lets be proud of the changes we have made and never forget the ability to tell that story of America warts and all.

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    1. Ellie, thank your for covering this story. I would argue the contention that we should be proud of the changes we have made. We still drive out the disenfranchised of all races and religions with gentrification, urbanization, revitalization and other 'tions'. Today it is the broader working class that is being driven from their homes in Annandale and elsewhere, as if to remind us that no one is safe until everyone is safe from economic exploitation and social disrespect.

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    2. Jesus Christ dude can we have a good news sorry without someone dredging up how awful white people are?

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  3. How tragic for that community. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Nice tale. Would like to visit wherever it is?

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    1. Pine Ridge Park is on Woodburn Road.

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  5. I had found that cemetery during a walk and wondered about the story behind it. Thank you, Ms. Dobbins, for recording memories of this community and persevering in getting the county to recognize the site.

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