The African-American Experience in McLean

The African-American Experience in McLean

Pleasant Grove Church celebrates Black History Month with guest speaker Carlton Funn, Sr.

Garry Jewett can still remember when the Civil Rights movement had yet to arrive in McLean.

"In 1960, there was no restaurant in McLean that would allow black people to eat there, and the schools were still segregated," said Jewett, President of the Board of Directors of Pleasant Grove Church. "It was not that long ago."

Pleasant Grove Church, located at 8641 Lewinsville Rd. in McLean, was originally built in 1892 when a group of Methodists made an appeal to the Washington Conference Lynchburg District for a house of worship. At that time, the entire congregation was African-American.

35 years ago, the church was slated to be torn down. Jewett, his wife Joan Jewett and several other residents decided to step in and see if they could save the building. Subsequently, The Friends of Pleasant Grove was born. The non-profit organization, which was made up of people of all races, was able to raise money from public and private interests to save the church. Unfortunately, just as the remodeling and refurbishments were being finished in 1992, the church steeple was struck by lightning.

"It was a big mess," said Jewett. "But we had put so much time and effort into rebuilding and restoring it, that we decided we were going to keep on and put it up anyway."

The Friends of Pleasant Grove was able to raise more money and do just that, and the destroyed steeple is now part of the church's basement museum display. Today, Pleasant Grove Church is an important historical landmark in McLean, and it is used for a variety of community activities such as weddings, community meetings, art shows, reunions and lectures.

LAST YEAR, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS started a new tradition of holding an annual event in February to commemorate the church's roots in African-American history. On Saturday, Feb. 18, the Board welcomed Carlton A. Funn, Sr. Director of Cultural Education Programs at National/International Cultural Exhibits (NICE). The lecture was sponsored by Deborah Ford Larson of Long and Foster Real Estate. Funn spoke about "The African American Experience."

"We decided we should have a regular Black History Month event, so here we are," said Jewett.

Funn discussed his 38-years of experience as a teacher, famous African Americans and the Civil Rights movement.

"I try to make sure people have an understanding of history," said Funn.

For the last 40 years, Funn has been collecting African-American history memorabilia, and the fruits of his labor were on display at Pleasant Grove.

"This is all his," said Jewett. "There was nothing here this morning."

The exhibit consisted of African Heritage artifacts and pictures, including pictures and information on African-American educators, Civil Rights activists, scientists, poets, government figures and athletes. Funn also brought a list of African-American inventors and their inventions. Some of the inventions included the air-conditioning unit, ice cream, peanut butter, cellular phones, the golf tee and the traffic light.

"I wonder if Tiger Woods knows that every time he tees up his golf ball, he is putting it on something that was invented by a black man," said Funn.

Funn has been collecting information and memorabilia for his entire teaching career.

"I've been doing this for 45 years and I'm still amazed at what I find out," said Funn.

Laura Carter, granddaughter of Frances Moore, a founder of The Friends of Pleasant Grove, was in attendance at Saturday's event. Carter, who is a member of the Friends of Pleasant Grove Board of Directors, is also the great-great granddaughter of one of the founders and builders of Pleasant Grove. She moved to Fairfax in 2001 and said she got involved with the church immediately upon her arrival.

"The Friends of Pleasant Grove have been so dedicated and have worked so hard over the years to preserve the church and be involved with the community," said Carter.

Another member of The Friends of Pleasant Grove Board of Directors, Zoe Sollenberger, also attended Saturday's event. Sollenberger says that she has been involved with the church for a long time.

"I know the Jewetts and both of my parents were active in Civil Rights activities," said Sollenberger.