Along Broad Run, the sounds of rhythmically pulsing drums mingled with the white noise of Interstate 66, just a few hundred yards from the Oakrum Baptist Church.
The simple stucco church was the cultural center of the post-Civil War community known as Thoroughfare, just east of Fauquier, and is one of its last reminders.
Earlier this month, Victoria Price, with her long silver hair pulled back under a floppy hat, joined more than 75 other activists and Prince William County officials to march from the church to another reminder, a field potter’s yard nearby where former residents of Thoroughfare are buried.
Ms Price was among many Thoroughfare descendants who were appalled that this simple piece of land created by her family was about to be bulldozed before the county purchased it this month to prevent further desecration.
“Frank Fletcher was my mother’s grandfather, and he built almost every house in Thoroughfare,” Ms Price said, as the group prepared for the one-mile walk to the cemetery. “He created the potter’s field for all who cannot afford to be buried. So, I have ancestors in these plots: Native American; mixed people; some who were freed slaves; some who have always been free people.
On December 7, the County Board of Supervisors approved a $300,000 deal to purchase 2 acres along the John Marshall Highway, at the urging of the Coalition to Save the Historic Thoroughfare. The group’s activism also spurred a county initiative to conduct archaeological studies of the area and tell the story of historic black settlements.
“A lot has been left out of the history books – a lot,” Ms Price said. “So I’m here to honor the ancestors and thank the County Board of Supervisors who redeemed the land that would have been completely destroyed.”
Supervisor Andrea Bailey (District of Potomac) said for her it was more than county history: it was about recovery.
“My great-grandfather was a tenant farmer. So I understand the importance of preserving history. Seeing this come to fruition for the community that loves living here is more than important. We all need to understand this community,” Ms Bailey said. “You never know where you’re going if you don’t preserve your history.”
The crowd included members of the Prince William County NAACP and Unity in the Community. There was even a national presence of the regional director of the American Indian Movement. Peter Landeros, a Pascua Yaqui Indian from Arizona, represents Virginia, Washington and Maryland. He said it was not acceptable to build on top of cemeteries no matter who was in the ground.
“The biggest thing here is that there are Native American graves, and there’s a federal law that says they’re supposed to stop immediately and that was ignored,” Landeros said. “They did it to us for years and years and years. They have desecrated our gravesites since the day they arrived here. No more.”
Frank Washington of the Thoroughfare Coalition said the community has always relied on faith, love and family.
“This is the legacy you want Thoroughfare to always carry: a place of love, faith and moving forward with that at heart, no matter what we face,” Mr. Washington at the rally. “Although we encountered a lot of animosity from time to time, we maintained our sense of morals and values.”
Coalition member Sheila Hansen of Shawnee ancestry noted the group marched with wreaths to honor a few World War I veterans, including Moses Johnson, who was laid to rest in the Potter’s Field.
“These World War I veterans fought for this country and served this country when this country did not serve them,” Ms. Hansen said. “But we’re going to honor them and thank them for their service and thank them for their lives and all those ancestors who rest here at Thoroughfare.”
Ms Bailey told InsideNoVa the aim is to “ensure that we honor and respect those who are gone, and the church and community that reside here. This is what we do to ensure that we are one community.