As we continue to explore the historic context of our neighborhood, the Community Forward team has conducted research into the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s when Mosby Woods was established. We make no attempt to draw any conclusions as to the thought process behind the founding of Mosby Woods or the motives behind the naming conventions used. Instead we offer it as background to the time and place in which our neighborhood was founded.
The Civil Rights Era
At the time America was observing the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War, the country was grappling with a changing social landscape in which people of color were protesting long-standing policies and practices of segregation and unequal access to housing, education, healthcare, and more — collectively thought of as civil rights.
After the Reconstruction period immediately following the Civil War, southern states and local governments created segregation laws. These “Jim Crow laws,” named based on a minstrel character, kept black people separate from white people in public spaces such as transportation, bathrooms, restaurants, water fountains, schools, and more. The Supreme Court upheld the idea of “separate but equal” in the 1896 case, Plessy v. Ferguson.
Resistance to Jim Crow laws increased in the 1950s. “Individuals and civil rights organizations challenged segregation and discrimination using a variety of activities, including protest marches, boycotts, and refusal to abide by segregation laws.”1
The Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of buses in 1956. However, with attitudes and power deeply entrenched, overt segregation continued in practice. It took the efforts of “Freedom Riders” organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1960 to ride Greyhound buses from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans, LA to force enforcement of the policy.2
The fourteenth (1869) and fifteenth (1870) amendments of The Constitution had established voting rights without regard to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, many people of color were prevented from voting, especially in southern states. An amendment to Virginia’s Constitution in 1902 codified a poll tax and Virginia voters were required to pass literacy tests.3
Some progress in fighting voter suppression was made in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 further established enforceable voting regulations that could preserve this right in practice. Poll taxes were still in effect in Virginia until the 1966 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, Harper v. Virginia Board of Electors.4
Up until the Civil Rights Act of 1968, banks used government-endorsed redlining which was intended to mitigate risk for the banks. Redlining is “a discriminatory practice that puts services (financial and otherwise) out of reach for residents of certain areas based on race or ethnicity.”5 The practice resulted in the denial of mortgages to people of color during this era.6
The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) was established by Congress in 1933 with an aim to stem a crisis of rampant foreclosures.7 To evaluate lending risks, Confidential Residential Security Maps were drawn by teams of “competent local real estate brokers and mortgage lenders, believed to represent a fair and composite opinion of the best qualified local people.”8 Residential neighborhoods were labeled by color based on “favorable” and “detrimental” factors that included race. Green indicated “hot spots… homogeneous; in demand as residential locations.” Red indicated areas “characterized by detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or infiltration of it.” Yellow and blue areas fell in a middle range of risk factors.8
“From 1934 to the early to mid-1960s, the FHA almost exclusively benefitted non-Hispanic White borrowers who bought new single-family detached homes in non-Hispanic White communities, occasionally with racial covenants and typically in the suburbs that had not changed in their racial and social composition and were not predicted to do so in the future.”9
Executive Order 11063 in 1962 banned racial discrimination in federally assisted housing, and The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and subsequent laws attempted to bolster anti-discrimination efforts in lending. However, in practice these legislative efforts simply caused a shift in the form of housing discrimination from open and overt to subtle and more difficult-to-challenge practices. Since 2007, the FHA has increasingly insured and refinanced conventional mortgages to help borrowers of color.9
However, these policies and practices ensured that segregated neighborhoods based on race would become entrenched in the American housing landscape and affected access to quality jobs, services, and schools.
“Like other school districts in the country, Fairfax County Public School was a segregated district from its creation to the middle of the 20th century.”10 Black-only elementary schools existed through the early 1960s. Prior to 1955, black students who wanted to pursue education beyond sixth grade “attended high school in Washington, D.C. or were transported to the Industrial School of Manassas.”11 FCPS first provided a black secondary school by opening Luther P. Jackson High School in 1955. It was located on Gallows Road in Merrifield, now the site of Luther Jackson Middle School.
The 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education ruled that “U.S. state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality.”12 The ruling did not define process or enforcement for desegregation of schools; the actual execution of desegregation involved more rulings, resistance, protest, and time.13
In Virginia, U.S. Senator Harry Byrd, Sr. led a “deliberate campaign of delay and obfuscation” called Massive Resistance “intended to slow to a crawl attempts to integrate Virginia’s schools generally and to minimize the effects of integration where it did occur.” Virginia’s Governor, Thomas Stanley joined the effort.13
Massive Resistance “was a group of laws, passed in 1956, intended to prevent integration of the schools. A Pupil Placement Board was created with the power to assign specific students to particular schools. Tuition grants were to be provided to students who opposed integrated schools. The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that attempted to integrate.”14
There were organizations and individuals in FCPS both supporting and objecting to integration. “The integration movement of the schools did not gather traction in FCPS until 1960.”15 Some black students began attending local, predominately white schools starting in 1960 and desegregation in FCPS was completed in approximately 1965.16
The Mosby Woods community has negotiated perspectives of what it means to be a neighborhood through many changing and uncertain times. This is a time of reflection again for our community. As we contemplate our street and neighborhood names, it is even more crucial to contemplate what “community” means to us, both inside and outside of Mosby Woods. We are a great, friendly, welcoming, supportive community. As institutions, culture, and language evolve, we hope that providing various aspects of context help us keep our community moving forward.
Some sources are available as in-line links above. Additionally, additional information is available in these footnoted sources:
- Carr, J.H. and Anacker, K.B. The complex history of the Federal Housing Administration: Building wealth, promoting segregation, and rescuing the U.S. housing market and the economy.(2015). Banking & Financial Services Policy Report, 34(8): 10-18.