From the era of slavery on the Custis and Lee plantations to the creation of Freedman's Village and the arrival of Martin Luther King Jr. before his march on Washington, Arlington is rich with black history. In a special ceremony Friday, County Board member Paul Ferguson proclaimed the beginning of Black History Month and kicked off a series of events sponsored by the county.
"This has been a long journey," said Arlington School Board member Frank Wilson, who hosted the ceremony inside the County Board Room on Courthouse Plaza. "I won't be happy, personally, until it's Black History Year, when every day we will take part in the American dream."
The ceremony featured a color guard from the Arlington Sheriff's Department and a performance by The Hands of Glory, a choir that uses sign language, from Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Alexandria. The program was aimed at encouraging local residents to learn more about Arlington's black community.
"If you start studying the history here, you see what these forebears have done to build our community and continue to do," said Dr. Drue S. Guy, vice president of the NAACP's Arlington Branch.
Talmadge Williams, the NAACP's Arlington president, was scheduled to attend the ceremony but was absent. He is currently mourning the loss of his son, who recently died in an automobile accident.
To begin the month-long series of lectures and performances honoring black history, the opening event featured a presentation from Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, president of Southeastern University in Washington, DC and daughter of Dr. Charles Drew, a renowned scientist and teacher famous for his studies of human blood.
"He fell off the roof of our home as a boy and broke his leg," Drew Jarvis said, recalling how her father told her he'd first become interested in medicine. "He was very interested in the wound. He was not the kind of man to do shallow investigations."
Arlington's Drew Model School is named for Drew.
"At the time of his death at the age of 46, he had taught most of the black surgeons in this country," Drew Jarvis said. "He always pushed his students to the limit, and he had high expectations for the people around him to achieve."
The theme for the county's Black History Month series is "Aspiring to a Higher Level," a fitting one, she said, in light of her father's drive to succeed. Among his many accomplishments, Drew discovered that blood transfusions can be performed using only plasma rather than whole blood. This was instrumental in battlefield medicine during World War II, Drew Jarvis said, because plasma does not need to be refrigerated like whole blood, meaning that transfusions could be performed outside of a hospital. This discovery has saved countless lives. Drew's house still stands in Arlington, at 2505 First St. S., where members of his family reside.
The county's month-long series will include another guest speaker in the County Board Room on Feb. 11, Jerrauld C. Jones, director of the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice. Arlington County Black History Month chairwoman Barbara Hargrove will also honor Rebecca Massie, Arlington's oldest African-American resident that day. She is 97.
On Feb. 18, the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, civil rights leader and pastor, New Bethel Baptist Church, will speak, and on Feb. 15 the Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy St, will host “Crowns for the Queens,” a celebration of hats in the Arlington African American community. The program explores the significance of hats in the lives of African American women. It begins at 7 p.m. The Drew Step Team will give a special dance performance Feb. 25, and on Feb. 28 Daniel Perkins, CEO and president of MTS Technologies, an Arlington-based company, will speak.
The county's Central Library will also host a special story time for children celebrating African American history on Feb 19 at 2 p.m. and another on Feb, 23. A story time aimed at preschoolers will be held on Feb. 28 at 11 a.m. at the Columbia Pike Library.
"We've got to know our history because we've got to know where we are going," said Drew Jarvis.