Little Hunting Park to get historic marker about landmark desegregation case
Back in February 2012, in recognition of Black History Month, then-State Delegate Scott Surovell shared a story with his fellow Virginia delegates about a recently deceased constituent whose actions in the 1960s led to a momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision.
According to Surovell’s account, Paul Sullivan was a federal employee and resident of Bucknell Manor whose family had a membership share in the Little Hunting Park (LHP) Pool and Tennis Club. Sullivan began renting out the house when his family moved to another home nearby.
In 1965, Sullivan rented the house to the family of Theodore Freeman, a Black economist at the Department of Agriculture. When Freeman’s family attempted to use the LHP pool, they were told they couldn’t. Sullivan stepped up in support of Freeman, only to have his own pool membership rescinded.
Sullivan and Freeman filed suit against the pool association, and after several years of bouncing back and forth between county, state and federal courts, the case of Sullivan vs. LHP was decided in December 1969 by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-3 decision, the court ruled that excluding Blacks from the pool was a violation of the Civil Rights Act and constituted illegal housing discrimination. The ruling set a precedent for desegregating community-based recreational clubs across the United States.
During the litigation process, Sullivan endured threats from some community members. He changed parishes, according to his obituary in the Washington Post, because his pastor declined to address the issue from the pulpit.
“It was because of families like the Sullivans who had the courage to stand up,” said Surovell, “that this state and this country changed its ways.”
Fast forward to 2021 when now State Senator Surovell asked the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) to consider creating a highway marker to inform the public about the historically significant court ruling. In December of that year, the Board of Historic Resources approved the marker and corresponding text referencing the Supreme Court case; however, the original sign was never manufactured.
According to DHR spokesperson Ivy Tan, the best location for the sign turned out to be on the property of Little Hunting Park, so the park’s board wanted some input into the marker text before finalizing a location for it on their property.
The updated marker text was approved two years later, and the new sign was officially announced in a Jan. 3, 2024, DHR press release. The next step, said Tan, is for the Virginia Department of Transportation to approve the exact location for the marker.
Surovell, who represents the Mount Vernon and Franconia magisterial districts, pointed out that the Mount Vernon area is home to many heroes of the Civil Rights era. Besides Sullivan, the list includes Annie Harper, lead plaintiff in a case that abolished poll taxes; Jube Shiver, Sr. who developed a neighborhood with high-quality housing for Black professionals; and the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, which trained, fed and housed Freedom Riders.
“It is important that our community recognize these heroes and remember their struggle,” Surovell said.
An unveiling ceremony for the “Desegregation of Community Clubs” marker will be held at a yet to be determined time in the future.