It’s Black History Month! As a Black American, that statement brings a range of emotions from extreme lows to the tremendous highs that are the African American experience. It reminds us of the horrific past of slavery some want to forget, but also the countless firsts of African American this or that, which make us realize how far we’ve come in just 400 years.
I live Black history every day, not just every February. And I do realize not everyone does, so, I’m thankful for Black History Month. And I’m hopeful as this could be a special Black History Month because on Feb. 17, Prince William County has an opportunity to save an important, but little-known part of local Black history, “the Settlement.” Located near Carver and Old Carolina roads in Gainesville, the Settlement is where descendants of slaves “settled” and built a community after Emancipation and continue to live today.
On Feb. 17, the Prince William County Planning Commission will address the Settlement in a proposed “U.S. 29 Small Area Plan.” Unfortunately, the plan includes dense development and four-lane roads, which risk losing the historic nature of this unique community as opposed to celebrating its past and what’s left of a valuable asset. All of this is occurring after the Settlement was officially recognized last year by Prince William County and the Commonwealth of Virginia as an historic African-American site with features such as Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, founded in 1877, slave burial grounds, and the Shady Inn Dance Hall where noted musicians such as Duke Ellington are rumored to have performed.
But wait…some will say this proposed plan is much better than the existing 20-year-old plan, which allows condos, apartments and four-lane roads throughout. To that I say: good riddance to that “develop everywhere” mentality. We need to do much better.
One important note is that these pro-development policies are being proposed by county staff. Our elected officials overwhelmingly support recognizing and preserving the history of this truly special area. There aren’t many Virginia counties where descendants of slaves own and continue to thrive on the land where their ancestors settled after being enslaved.
In this case, ownership of land by descendants of former slaves is a significant historic event that I believe should be preserved. Black History Month is a great opportunity for Prince William County to reject road widening and development in historic areas proposed in the U.S. 29 Small Area Plan and say, “Look at us…we honor and promote diversity in historic preservation.”