Black History Month: James Lee Center

Henderson Family Collection, “James Lee School ,” 100 Years Black Falls Church, accessed February 4, 2021, http://100yearsblackfallschurch.org/items/show/92.

Today, the James Lee building functions as a Fairfax County community center and houses the Park Authority’s Archaeology and Collections Branch labs, staff offices and collections. However, it’s past belies a markedly different purpose and the remarkable story of activism and determination that brought needed change. It’s a story worth recounting.

James Lee Elementary School opened its doors to the Black children of Falls Church on February 6, 1948. Despite the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregation of public schools unconstitutional, James Lee operated as a fully segregated Black school until June 1966 and was one of the last two segregated schools to close in Fairfax County. While the history of the James Lee building is a stark reminder of the county’s resistance to educational and racial equality, that is not the only legacy the structure carries on today.

Prior to 1948, Black students in Falls Church attended the James Lee Colored School — a two-room frame building that lacked running water. Continuing a deep and rich tradition of social and political activism, Black residents of Falls Church petitioned the school board for over two decades to rectify gaping disparities in educational funding and facilities between the county’s white and Black schools. The construction of the new James Lee School, a six-room modern brick structure with running water and indoor bathrooms, marked a significant victory in the Black community’s struggle for educational equality.

Henderson Family Collection, “Elderly James Lee in the Henderson grocery store,” 100 Years Black Falls Church, accessed February 2, 2021, http://100yearsblackfallschurch.org/items/show/553.

The school’s namesake, James E. Lee, and his family were among the earliest Black landowners in Falls Church. Lee donated the land upon which the James Lee Colored School was erected. Strong proponents of economic advancement through landownership, education, and social activism, the Lee family helped form the bedrock of the free Black community in Falls Church following the Civil War. James Lee’s youngest son, Russel Lee, later donated the land where the James Lee School was constructed. Lee descendants and other county residents who attended the segregated James Lee School are still present and active in the Falls Church community today.

Today, the James Lee building functions as a Fairfax County community center and houses the Archaeology and Collections Branch labs, staff offices, and collections.

Author Robin Ramey is the Field Director for the Archaeology and Collections Branch, headquartered out of the James Lee Center in Falls Church.

Sources:

https://www.tinnerhill.org/educational-resources/2018/2/15/history-of-the-land-people-of-tinner-hill

http://www.100yearsblackfallschurch.org/history

https://www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/history/records/desegregation/schools#james-lee

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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