Historic designation won by subdivision built by Black entrepreneur during Jim Crow
Randall Estates looks like so many Fairfax County subdivisions built in the early 1960s with a predominance of ranch homes, some with additions, mixed with larger two-story homes built in the past two decades.
But its development — undertaken by a Black public-school teacher to provide homes for African American professionals who had few opportunities for home ownership during Jim Crow in Virginia — was recently recognized by the Fairfax County Registry of Historic Sites. Randall Estates was a rare Virginia subdivision with a storied history dating back to descendants of one of the nation’s Founding Fathers, George Mason IV.
Virginia State Senator Scott Surovell and Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck joined residents and descendants of original residents at a ceremony Oct. 7, celebrating the county’s recognition of the subdivision in a ceremony on Shiver Drive in the northern Mount Vernon District.
To achieve historic designation, Jube Shiver Jr., the son and namesake of the developer, submitted a 20-page footnoted and illustrated Historic District application to the Heritage Resource staff at the county Department of Planning and Zoning, in which he told the story of Randall Estates and documented each house.
Jube Shiver Sr., who died in 2010 at age 88, was a live-in teacher at the Manassas Campus of the Industrial School for Colored Youth, the segregated high school attended by Black Fairfax County youth until it closed in 1958. After moving to Alexandria, Shiver and his family were unable to find suitable housing due to racial covenants in many subdivisions that prevented Black people from purchasing homes, as well as the general climate of segregation. In the early 1960s, Virginia was still fighting the 1954 Supreme Court order to integrate schools; a Black family renting a home in a nearby subdivision was denied access to the community swimming pool, and interracial marriage was illegal, according to the application document.
Shiver was introduced to William Randall by celebrated Northern Virginia athletic coach Charles Price. Randall owned a 10-acre farm just north of the Paul Spring Branch of Little Hunting Creek near Fort Hunt Road. Four other families had also acquired land in the area from descendants of George Mason of Spring Banks, who had been enslaved at Gunston Hall plantation by Founding Father George Mason.
Shiver convinced Randall and his neighbors of his vision to build homes for Black families who could afford the same lifestyle as suburban white families but were barred from housing by discriminatory laws and policies.
The surrounding area was already suburban with Bucknell Manor, a suburb of Cape Cod-style starter homes built in the 1950s and an area of duplexes to the north. These homes were built by developers for returning white World War II veterans who received federally backed low-interest mortgages, which were denied to Black veterans like Shiver Sr.
Despite the odds he faced during Jim Crow, Shiver eventually created a 20-acre enclave of middle-class homes for African American professionals on land that had been owned by African Americans for nearly 150 years.
He put together a plan, left public school teaching to become a general contractor, purchased some of the property, subdivided it into lots and hired skilled brick masons and carpenters to construct custom homes for buyers.
Financing, however, was an obstacle. Shiver approached a dozen banks before finding a Washington, D.C. bank that financed him to demolish Randall’s clapboard house and build new homes for the Randall and Shiver families at the corner of Shiver Drive and Rollins Drive, which would become the entrance to Randall Estates.
The subdivision developed in three stages and eventually included 50 lots that attracted Black professionals from throughout Northern Virginia to build customized homes that were considered luxury at the time.
The Randall Estate homes sold for $25,000 to $40,000, making them solidly upper middle class and attracting teachers, lawyers, accountants and small business owners.
The new subdivision was met with mixed feelings from the white community. A Sept. 15, 1962 article in the Washington Daily News headlined “Swank Negro Homes Come to Alexandria,” reported that “Neighborhood feeling in Bucknell Manor runs the gamut from lack of concern to angry suspicion that the subdivisions are being financed by the NAACP,” and that “Some white residents said their neighborhood was being targeted by “Negro block busting,” noting reports that some white homeowners were being offered $4,000 to $6,000 over the market price of their homes. However, it reported, civic association leaders “scoffed” at that theory.
In the early 1960s, the children of Randall Estate families were not allowed to go to nearby segregated Bucknell Elementary School. Rather they were bussed to Drew-Smith Elementary School in the Black community of Gum Springs until Bucknell was integrated in 1964. The Shiver children attended Burgundy Farm Country Day School, which after its founding in 1946 by a group of concerned parents and some Quakers, became the first school in Virginia to racially integrate.
Randall Estates is not unique, but it is one of less than a dozen small subdivisions built by Black developers and one of three of comparable size, according to Shiver’s research.
The Oct. 7 ceremony was moderated by Inez Bryant, a resident of Randall Estates and acting president of the William H. Randall Civic Association.
In welcoming remarks, Shiver Jr. drew on his extensive research for the application, concluding that “The people that put their faith in each other, and helped realize Randall Estates, had ‘vision.’ And because of them, we have a beautiful community that has attracted new home owners and a new spirit that is helping to keep that vision alive.”
Sen. Surovell said, “This neighborhood reminds me of my family history. In 1935, Jews from New York were not welcome here. My grandfather found 19 other federal workers from Arlington to buy 12 acres to build 20 homes in 1941 in a subdivision called Tauxemont, where I live now. It was the first historic district; Hollin Hall was second, and this is third.” Surovell promised to help the community get certified as a state historic district. A 2011 joint Virginia Senate Resolution recognized Shiver’s groundbreaking accomplishments.
“This community was not met with support when it was built. It had to fight its way in,” Supervisor Storck said. He recalled that the racial strife that resulted from the merger of Fort Hunt High School and Groveton High School into West Potomac High School was difficult but resulted in a community that was better, more diverse and more equitable.
Storck noted that it was important to recall history to understand how people in the past had shaped their future, and the “people of Randall Estates changed the future of our community.”
Tammy Mannarino, the Mount Vernon Historian on the Fairfax Historical Commission, noted that whereas an application needs to meet only one category to be accepted, Randall Estates meets three categories. It exemplifies the cultural, economic, social, political or historic heritage of the county, state or nation; is identified with a person or group of persons who influenced society; and represents a significant and distinguishable entity whose components are significant as a group.
She noted there was more research to be done about the history and connections between Randall Estates and the two nearby historically Black communities of Spring Bank and Gum Springs, which are tied historically to George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, as well as Gunston Hall.
Shiver Sr. also developed Spring Garden Apartments — a 209-unit building on Route 1 in Gum Springs, which was the first low-income development in Fairfax County built with federal funding — and a small apartment in Alexandria, as well as homes in North Carolina and Maryland.
Shiver Jr. is president of Shiver Management Group. He is a Registered Housing Manager and a member of the Mid-Atlantic Affordable Housing Management Association and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. Prior to property management, Shiver taught "Writing for Communication" at American University and, for more than two decades, was a journalist for the Los Angeles Times.