The Landlord: Frederick Murray

By Anne Dobberteen

Frederick W. Murray was a white man whose land was developed into what became the west side of School Street. He was listed as a baby in Fairfax, Virginia, in the 1850 census along with his father Thomas, an attorney, mother Julia Murray, and three siblings. By 1910, Frederick Murray and his wife Kate were living in Washington, D.C. They ran a boarding house for white lodgers. About a year before, Murray had purchased a tract of land on the southwestern border of Fairfax City, an area that would become a vital part of the School Street community. Murray held the land, perhaps renting it, until 1921, when he sold it for $3,250.00 to a lawyer-developer named John W. Rust and his wife Anne. The Rusts subdivided the Murray tract and began selling parcels to Black families shortly thereafter. The Rusts were already major players in Fairfax County real estate development in the 1920s, the decade that  John was elected as a Virginia State Senator.[1]

The 1920 census located Frederick and Kate Rust as permanent residents of Fairfax, where they are listed as owning their home on or near their old tract of land, which by then was becoming a Black neighborhood. Census takers often worked their way down a street, and the neighbors listed near the Murrays in 1920 were all African Americans homeowners or renters in what became the School Street neighborhood.[2] In 1948 John Morarity’s grandson Warren Morarity bought a subdivided portion of Rust-owned Murray land on which he built his home and a convenience store.

Frederick and Kate are listed as living in among Fairfax's Black families in 1920.

More needs to be discovered about Frederick Murray. He shared the same ancestral surname with a Black family living off West Drive in Fairfax City, which was closer to the center of town. Was he related to them somehow? When he sold his tract to John Rust, were Black families already renting from him there, and did Murray sell to Rust with an informal understanding that the attorney-developer would then sell to Black families in the area? Finally, why did he choose to retire in a Black neighborhood during the 1920s?

Subdivision of Murray tract by John Rust.

John Rust, Left, subdivided the Murray tract for Black families.


[1] “John W. Rust of Fairfax Dead at 77,” undated, un-named newspaper clipping; and Aubrey Graves, “J.W. Rust is Feted As Lawyer, Leader,” Washington Post January 23, 1957, in the Rust Family Subject Files, Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

[2] United States Census Bureau, 1850, 1910, and 1920; accessed through; DB T-8, p 493-494, DB W-8, p 249-250, FCCHRC.

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