Black Church Salience in Northern Virginia

The history of Black churches in Northern Virginia has been said to be a place where African American Americans came to worship but the significance of Black churches within Northern Virginia is more than this and that is why they are still here. In Dispossessed Lives Marisa Fuentes states “Both the archive and secondary historical accounts beg reexamination” (Fuentes, 48).  This quote from Fuentes fuels my understanding of what it means to map Black lives within the Northern Virginia Area and especially Black churches within the Northern Virginia Area. Black lives transcend the corporeal. They are geographic stories that have often been covered up. Black geographies as a theory can be supported through Fuentes work but also Katherine McKittrick’s work Demonic Grounds in which they discuss the meaning of black lives, historical space, and present space. Black lives can be seen within history through narrowed lenses of meaning. When Black life is full and goes beyond current narratives of what is and has been Black life especially when looking at the Northern Virginia area. McKittrick and Fuentes arguments will frame my project. The following arguments by McKittrick will be used: The act of naming place is also an act of naming the self and self-histories. (xxii) Also, the “illumination of the seeable and unseeable, black subjects hidden and on display. (xxx) The following argument by Fuentes will be used: “the archive conceals, distorts, and silences as much as it reveals……… Thus, both the archive and secondary historical accounts beg reexamination.” (Fuentes p.48) My project explores how black communities built and sustained black churches in northern Virginia. McKittrick, in demonic grounds, invites research to consider “the relationship between black populations and geography.” (x) this project is guided by McKittrick’s suggestion and seeks to “make visible” the spiritual and institutional labor of black residents of northern Virginia.  McKittrick in their work emphasizes that Black lives are geographic mapping these lives is a revolutionary practice that challenges the archive. Black lives are everywhere and within Northern Virginia they are literally right next door and never spoken about.  Utilizing Fuentes work I seek to reevaluate the narrative surrounding the Black church within Northern Virginia. Utilizing the archive for contrary purposes will help to bring forward the ways in which the Black Churches within Northern Virginia are multifaceted.

I look at news articles created after the inception of Black churches within the Northern Virginia area to cultivate my argument of the salience of Black churches within the Northern Virginia area. The articles I will be utilizing discuss the growth of Black churches, the Black Church, and the American experience as well as the political impact of the Black church. These articles discussion of the Black church date later than the creation of churches but add layers to my argument of why Black churches within Northern Virginia have remained salient. Many of the secondary sources I will be utilizing are news articles and excerpts from museum exhibitions. These articles seek to answer the big question brought for me when trying to map Black life in Northern Virginia and specifically mapping Black Churches in Northern Virginia has brought up for me.

This class and my research have guided me to asking the question of “Why are Black churches still salient?” Arriving at this question came through understanding that numerous churches were establish between the 1800’S and 1900’s.  Many Black churches were among them but they were not discussed in a way in which they were significant. The question asked seeks to make visible an aspect if Black lives next door which is that Black lives included the creation of the Black church and the strong ties that the Black churches within Northern Virginia have allowed for the continued ability of the Black community to thrive within this area.

 In understanding that Black churches from the 1800’s were still thriving my next thoughts the following three sub questions that begin to answer my big question of the salience of Black churches within Northern Virginia are the following:

  1. What role(s) does strong leadership play in sustaining the church community?
  2. How were these Black churches able to maintain a sense of community?
  3. How has the Black church been an integral part in the fight for Black equality in Northern Virginia?

 Through each sub question my original question of why Black churches have remained salient is answered. The narrative has mainly been that Black churches are only import for Black people to worship but instead they are a place for community, fellowship, and support.

This project looks to seek the beauty in the way Black life has been cultivated and supported by Black churches within the Northern Virginia area. This project seeks to go past looking at things like gentrification but instead look at not what is missing but what is still here. By looking at Black churches within Northern Virginia this project is looking at Black life past a deficit lens but instead an asset. This project adds to the ongoing conversation being had surrounding Black life within Northern Virginia. Many have stated that the Black community within Northern Virginia has left or not survive the great influx of individuals that what to be close to the capital city. Instead, this project is saying that although in one frame the notion that a lot of Black life has left the Northern Virginia has been said Black life and community is very much so alive and thriving within the Northern Virginia area. Lastly, this project seeks to actively engage and redress the archive as it regards to Black Churches importance within northern Virginia.

By: Ashala D Bell

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