Group Seeks to Preserve Local Black History

Group Seeks to Preserve Local Black History

A nonprofit organization gave Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) a $10,000 campaign contribution for her help.

A Maryland nonprofit organization really wants an African-American history and cultural center to be built in Fairfax County's Providence District.

So much so, in fact, the organization gave a $10,000 campaign contribution to Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence) for her re-election campaign in 2007.

Chosen Generation, based in Fort Washington, Md., is a nonprofit, religious group that works to strengthen African-American families and promote black history. It was one of the leading advocates of a push to have a national black history museum open on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The organization decided to financially support Smyth because she has been a vocal advocate of its effort to open a museum commemorating Tinner Hill, an area located on the Fairfax County and Falls Church border, where the nation's first rural chapter of the NAACP was founded in 1918.

"The establishment of this cultural center is important to us, and it's important to the community," said Sandra Ruffin, Chosen Generation's general counsel. "We want to be instrumental in making this happen in Fairfax County."

The campaign contribution was also intended to help the project receive a favorable rezoning decision as it moves forward, said William Franklin, Chosen Generation's director of marketing and a McLean resident.

THE $10,000 contribution comprised nearly half of Smyth's total contributions from July 2004 to last month and was the single largest donation to any Fairfax County candidate, according to campaign finance reports.

It may have been a risky move for Chosen Generation because, as a charitable tax-exempt organization, it may be prohibited from making political contributions, according to James Dupree, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman.

But Harold Johnson, the organization's special projects director, said that Chosen Generation's members feel it is their duty to back projects and politicians that support their beliefs.

"It's important to us," Johnson said. "If that's a fight we have to have with the IRS, then that's a challenge we'll have to face."

Smyth said she was unsure whether the contribution was permitted under federal tax law.

"I'm not a tax attorney," she said. "If it turns out it was illegal, I'll be happy to return it."

SMYTH has championed the Tinner Hill project, saying the cultural center would honor the struggles the historic black neighborhood faced during segregation.

"It's an interesting project and an interesting piece of local history to go along with it," she said.

Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church jointly own the Tinner Hill property, located on Tinner Hill Road in Falls Church. In 2003, the two localities leased the land to the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation — a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a replica home to serve as the black history museum and cultural center.

Last year, the foundation finalized architectural plans for the Tinner Hill Cultural Center and adjoining John Jackson Center for Piedmont Blues. The group hopes the center will open by February 2007, said David Eckert, vice president of the foundation's board.

A documentary about Tinner Hill will premiere Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the State Theatre in Falls Church.