Mount Vernon Matters

Gum Springs Gala to Mark 190 Years of Historic Black Community

Mount Vernon’s beautifully decorated trees formed a special background at last year’s gala. (Photos courtesy of Gum Springs Historical Society)

Alexandria, VA – Ron Chase, president of the Gum Springs Historical Society, was very excited about the 190th Celebration Gala he was planning for the historic African American community set to occur just after Zebra went to press with its December issue.

Chase raved about the 189th gala last year, also set at historic Mount Vernon Estate, which drew about 140 guests, according to Chase. The evenings were sponsored by the Gum Springs Historical Society and Museum and The Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

What a perfect setting for an event saluting Gum Springs, the oldest historically African American community in Fairfax County and the nation, founded in 1833 by Freedman West Ford, “whose bones rest near George Washington’s at Mount Vernon.”

Ron Chase, President of the Gum Springs Historical Society, chats with a guest at last year’s event.

Not far from Mount Vernon, Gum Springs was named after a gum tree that once marked the marshy land. It became, according to the historical society, “a place for blacks to prevail, assimilating runaways and freed slaves who migrated there.” Many of these early residents had tended Mount Vernon Estate before being freed upon the death of Martha Washington. They put to use the skills and trades they learned as enslaved people and were aided by the Quakers in building their community.

Today, the historical society says Gum Springs has more than 2,500 residents. As many as 500 are descendants of the original families.

The 190th Anniversary Gala was to include a reception, dinner, live music, and a silent auction with black tie optional. Guest speakers included Dr. Henry Gates, Professor of African American History at Harvard University, and Dr Cornell West, who holds the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Chair at Union Theological Seminary.

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Marlene Miller

Marlene Miller has lived in, and written about, Mount Vernon for decades. She raised her family here, her two children graduating from area public schools. After retiring from over 16 years of publishing her own newspaper, The Zebra has tempted her back to community journalism

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