George Mason University

GMU Project Examines Black Community That Once Thrived in the Area

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A unique research project at George Mason University cast a new light on an African American community that once thrived in Fairfax city. 

The Black Lives Next Door project examined the lives of African Americans who lived in the area years before GMU was founded. 

“We thought that it was very important for George Mason University, for current students and for future students to understand the role that Black communities played in shaping the region in which they go to school,” professor Lanitra Berger said.

The students learned Black families settled there seeking a better though still segregated education – first at the Rosenwald School opened in the 1920s and later at the 11 Oaks School.

“I was very impressed by the stories of the long commutes the students had to transport to school – sometimes over an hour in any inclement weather,” student Rachel Amon said. “It was very inspiring.”

They learned with school desegregation the community began to splinter. The school was torn down to make way for George Mason Boulevard. 

Recent grad and economics major Sydney Hardy researched tax records to learn some Black families sold their homes to developers or the newly established George Mason College.

“If they chose to sell, they actually made quite a bit of money, which is why a lot of them did sell,” Hardy said. 

They also discovered the university that now prides itself as one of the most diverse in the nation created barriers to some of its first Black applicants in the 1960s. 

“You gotta know where you came from in its entirety regardless of how ugly and gritty and the truth may be,” Hardy said. “It’s your duty as a researcher.”

“Just seeing a Black principal during that time of an all-Black school just empowers me to keep working hard so that I can be an example for other Black people in the community,” student Alexis Massenberg said. 

The group is also challenging other colleges and universities to embark on similar projects and circulate what they learn under the hashtag #BlackLivesNextDoor. 

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