Fairfax County supervisors on July 13 unanimously directed the Fairfax County History Commission to begin preparations for holding a student contest to create historical markers, with an initial emphasis on African-American history.
“Inviting students to engage in this process will allow for a deeper understanding of history and a chance to participate in and engage with our local government,” said Supervisor Dalia Palchik (D-Providence), who advanced the contest proposal along with Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D) and Supervisors Rodney Lusk (D-Lee) and Kathy Smith (D-Sully).
The county’s historical-marker program began in January 1998, when the History Commission approved the design and agreed to fund a “distinctive” marker for the county, Palchik said.
The program so far has installed 53 signs commemorating people, places and events in Fairfax County that were of regional, statewide and national significance. Several of those markers focus on African-American history in the county. The upcoming contest will concentrate on that aspect and “allow new stories to be shared with our community,” Palchik said.
“It will help ensure a more comprehensive and inclusive retelling of the diverse and rich stories that helped create the Fairfax County of today,” she said.
The historical markers will feature narratives and oral histories about the county’s African-American communities, which are “underrepresented in our history books, lessons and markers,” Palchik said.
Officials hope the contest program in future years can expand to cover other underrepresented stories in the county, she said.
Gov. Northam last year initiated an African-American historical-markers contest for the state markers program. The Governor’s Office provided resources to teachers for history discussions, promoted Virginia’s Black History Month events and began a competition in which students could submit ideas for historical markers to the Department of Historic Resources, Palchik said.
Officials recently placed one marker from that contest in Fairfax County, she said.
The contest will be incorporated into Fairfax County Public Schools’ (FCPS) kindergarten-through-12th-grade social-studies curriculum as a project-based-learning initiative, but also will be open to all students who reside in the county, she said.
The contest’s committee – staffed by people appointed by each county supervisor, as well as appointees from George Mason University, FCPS, the NAACP Youth Council and Black Chamber of Commerce – will craft the competition’s rules and vote on markers to be placed next year in each magisterial district.
Funding for up to nine markers at $2,700 each will be included in a consideration item for the county’s fiscal year 2023 budget, Palchik said. Half of those funds would be provided by the History Commission and half by the Board of Supervisors, she added.
Preliminary work should be complete by Nov. 1 for the contest, which will kick off next January.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) questioned if African-American historical markers truly were underrepresented in the county, given that they constituted 20 percent of the 53 existing signs.
“We have to have a plan that looks at all members of our community,” including Asians, Hispanics, and Irish- and German-Americans, Herrity said. “I think we need to look at this in broader terms.”
Palchik responded that the county’s initial contest would focus on African-Americans because so much of their history has been lost over the centuries.
“To me, this fills so many buckets. It’s so important,” she said.