The Segregationist Dairy Farmer: John S. Barbour

By Anne Dobberteen

John Strode Barbour (1866-1952) was a prominent white lawyer and dairy farmer who bought Henry Thomas’s land from the judge’s heirs.[1]  In the 1910s and 1920s, Barbour sold parcels of his property, abutting the family land of Robert Hunter and John Morarity, to members of Fairfax’s Black community; these transactions included plots on which the Rosenwald School and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church were built. In so doing, Barbour, provided opportunities for Black homeownership, education, and collective worship in racially segregated Fairfax City.

Born in August 1866, Barbour came from an old Virginia family that owned the “Beauregard” estate in Culpepper. He earned a degree from the University of Virginia and practiced law as a recent college graduate in his hometown before moving his offices to Fairfax in 1907. Through the legal profession, he engaged in business, civic, and political affairs, serving as counsel for the Washington Railway and Electric Company and Potomac Electric Power Company; he was a member of the State Library Board and one of the founders of the Fairfax Town Library Association; he also belonged to the Fairfax Rotary Club, Sons of the Confederate Veterans, and the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Association.[2]  In 1902, he participated in the Virginia Constitutional Convention codifying Jim Crow-era (voting, residential, economic, and social) restrictions imposed on Black and poor white people in Virginia. Barbour was part of a broader moment of backlash led by conservative Democrats against gains made by African Americans during the Reconstruction period following the Civil War.[3]

Barbour’s real estate transactions in Fairfax City reinforced de jure segregation in the town, but opened up lots in his subdivision for Black families to own homes and build wealth. The presence of the Moraritys and Robert Hunter likely encouraged him on this path. Seeing that the border of his dairy farm was already home to some Black families, Barbour could have decided to subdivide the acres near it for Black buyers as a practical business move. Thanks to its bovine inhabitants, the area may have had an odor at times that could have caused white families looking to buy to go elsewhere, leaving Barbour with only African American buyers who may have had fewer choices.

Barbour helped cluster the Black community on the south side of East School Street. He sold two (nearly) half-acre lots to an African American buyer named Henson Turner in 1912 and 1913 (DB O-7, p 416 and DB P R-7 p 545). Robert Newton bought one of Turner’s lots in 1916 for $150 (DB Q-8 p 607). Barbour sold a lot to Emma Lucas next to one of Turner’s lots in 1917 (DB F-8 p 461). In 1920, Barbour sold about one acre to Lucy Naylor, who was required to build a “substantial woven wire fence around” her property, “separating it from the residue of said Barbour’s land sufficient to protect the same against trespass from horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, and chickens.” (DB R-8 p. 366). That same year, Barbour sold a lot to Georgia Chambers with the same fence stipulation (DB R-8 p. 491). Then, in 1921, he sold a narrow lot next to the Lucas property to Stephen and Mabel Payne (DB W-8 p 61).

The map above illustrates how John Barbour's land sales along School Street allowed Black families, a church, and school to purchase property there to sustain a thriving community. But in the process, he also facilitated segregating that community farther from the center of town.

Rosenwald School and Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, two Black-run institutions in a “colored” section of Fairfax City neighboring his property. He contracted to sell two lots of his subdivision to the Fairfax Colored School League to build the school in 1917 for $500. This new school meant that the old Fairfax Colored School, located close to the Court House and thereby more spatially integrated into the professional center of town, would no longer draw Black students through that area every day. Instead, Black pupils would be drawn to what was rapidly becoming a Black neighborhood for their education. In this instance of municipal social engineering, the discriminatory “separate but equal” concept, enshrined into law by the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision (1896), underpinned these maneuvers. [4]

Decades later, in 1949, Barbour and his wife finalized the terms of another sale of land to the trustees of the African American Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, currently situated on the north side of School Street. This transaction enabled Mt. Calvary Baptist worshippers to move their services to a bigger modern building in 1957; the previous church location a few blocks north of Chain Bridge Road and Armstrong Street could no longer accommodate the congregation. The asking price, $1200.00, was made payable in four installments over four years at a 5% interest rate. The down payment was $240. Among the Mt. Calvary Baptist trustees was Lewis Morarity, a grandson of both John Morarity, and Strother Gibson, who had been a church founder in 1870.  Lewis Morarity belonged to a group of religious leaders that included Ernest Pinn, James Hunter, Marvin Metcalf, Atana Payne, and John Martin. The siting of Mt. Calvary Baptist in the School Street area represented another southward shift of a Black institution away from the center of Fairfax City.[5]

Fairfax Courthouse Hopkins Map

The Fairfax Colored School's original location was very close to the Courthouse.

Barbour sold the land on the north side of School Street to Mt. Calvary Baptist Church.

Although a segregationist, Barbour supported the growth of School Street neighborhood infrastructure. This fact highlights that twentieth-century residential developments in Fairfax did not always follow a predictable or uniformly determined script.[6] There may yet be a 1930s New Deal-era redlining history to uncover, which doomed Black homeowners to low property values and unequal access to housing loans, but we have found no evidence of this in Barbour’s dealings.[7] What we now know is that Barbour seemed to be operating as a real estate agent in a field that he defined according to his personal aims: that of making money from willing buyers on transactional terms that were favorable to him, and in the process concentrating a Black community and its infrastructure to a racially segregated area of Fairfax City farther from the town center.

[1] DB C-7, p 136, FCCHRC.

[2] “Death of J. S. Barbour – Dean of Fairfax Bar Passes Away, Tuesday Morning Last, Following Long Illness,” Fairfax Herald May 9, 1952, 1.

[3] Susan Breitzer, “Constitutional Convention, Virginia (1901-1902),” Encyclopedia Virginia, Virginia Humanities (23 March 2021),

[4] DB A-9 p 209, FCCHRC; For more on the deleterious impacts of Plessy v. Ferguson, see Blair Murphy Kelley, Right to Ride Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy V. Ferguson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).

[5] DB 729 p 65, FCCHRC; Mt. Calvary Baptist Church “History,”

[6] See also Paige Glotzer, How the Suburbs Were Segregated: Developers and the Business of Exclusionary Housing, 1890-1960 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2020). Glotzer’s work examines how the real estate industry shaped residential segregation in Baltimore during the same period.

[7] See also Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017).

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