Rediscovering History

Rediscovering History

Pohick offers Black History celebration

One quilt square depicts a stone dairy with red silos. It represents the Coates farm, a black-owned dairy that distributed milk to Chestnut Farms from 1901 until 1964, when it was sold to make way for Dulles International Airport. Another square depicts a one-room schoolhouse. The Vienna Colored School, built in 1867 on 1/8 of an acre from former Union officer O.E. Hine, is now Louise Archer Elementary School. Another shows the First Baptist Church of Vienna, the first church built after the Civil War.

The stories of hundreds of people live on in the fabric of the quilt, now hanging in the Fairfax County Government Center. On Saturday, Feb. 4, a replica of the quilt was on display at the Pohick Regional Library as part of the library's first-ever Black History Month celebration.

According to Genelle Schuler of Pohick Regional Library, the quilt project originated in 1991, when Springfield-based group Black Women United for Action discovered that much of the black history of Fairfax County was being lost. The history of black Fairfax County residents is mostly oral, said Schuler.

"This is the first time we ever did something of this magnitude," said Schuler, who came across a newspaper article about the quilt while cleaning a colleague's files and decided to head up a library event focusing on the history of black Fairfax County residents.

In the early 1990s, said Black Women United president Sheila Coates, the Fairfax County History Commission had almost no records of the county's black community. The commission urged her to put together a history herself, and with a small grant from what is now Dominion Virginia Power, Coates and a group of colleagues gathered the history and presented it as a quilt.

The quilt replica, which is slightly smaller, now travels to schools and libraries for children to learn about Fairfax County's black history, said Coates. It has been a "gateway" into the school system, she said.

"I'm sitting here and looking at how far we've come, to be able to do this," said Coates. Recently, however, treatment and teaching of the black experience has been rather complacent.

"The movement has not been as strong as it should be," she said. The only way to keep history relevant, she said, is to make sure that teachers, students and community members continue to talk about it.

The event at Pohick Regional Library was important because it gave children and adults a chance to learn about history in an interactive manner, said Coates. At the event, visitors could watch a video of the history of black residents and landmarks in Fairfax County, also produced by Black Women United. Children listened to storytellers and made crafts, while speakers shared their own experiences.

"IF HISTORY is to be kept alive, it is to be shared," said Coates.

Delores Hailstalk came to Pohick to tell the story of what it was like to grow up in segregated America. The Winston-Salem, N.C. native remembers bathrooms labeled "white" and "colored," she said, and going around to the back of restaurants to pick up food, the only way black people could eat at a restaurant. She remembers traveling from North Carolina to Buckingham County, Va., and finally up to Fairfax County in 1972, where she began teaching at Louise Archer.

The change from teaching school in Buckingham County to Fairfax County was a memorable one, said Hailstalk. In Buckingham County, she taught mostly black students, while at Louise Archer, most of the students were white. For six years, said Hailstalk, she was the only black teacher in the school.

"I knew it was going to be a challenge for me, because I was coming into a totally new environment," she said. But although it was hard at first, with a long commute from Fredericksburg, Hailstalk loved the Louise Archer community and ended up staying for 33 years. She retired in 2005.

"I knew I had to be a role model for the students," said Hailstalk. "I knew that I wanted black kids to learn. I knew that I had put my foot down and just give it to them because where I grew up, I had the best education you could possibly think of." At school in Winston-Salem, said Hailstalk, she learned everything from etiquette to science to French, and shared all of it with her students at Louise Archer.

"I would not have traded it for anything in world," she said.