A diverse, welcoming community of open hearts and minds since 1948
Reeb Hall in History
The old brick building which stands across the parking lot from our current UUCA church building wasn’t always called “Reeb Hall.” When it was built in 1948, it was just called the Unitarian Church of Arlington. From its earliest days, members used this building for Sunday morning services and religious education, and also for community outreach.
Once the building was complete, the congregation felt empowered to live out its inspiring vision - to provide a place for Arlington County's first integrated dances, classes, and community meetings occurred in Jim Crow Virginia, at a time when segregation was mandated by a state government stuck in the Confederate past. This is a space which brought together thousands of children and adults over four decades, nurturing religious education, creative arts, and beloved community. This was a space which was named for James Reeb, a UU minister who worked with our youth when he was at All Souls in DC, and who later on was murdered while marching for civil rights in Selma, Alabama in the mid-1960s.
The church doors were opened to bring blacks and whites together into its rooms, for meetings, social events, and education. And the church hosted integrated picnics in the public parks. This was done in defiance of Virginia’s segregation laws.
In the 1950s, UCA’s minister Ross Weston organized the Community Council for Social Progress, an interracial, interfaith group that challenged those laws. Gradually, slowly, fighting all the way, Virginia began to comply with the 1954 Supreme Court decision banning segregation in schools. This took years. During that time, UCA and the CCSP helped ease the adjustment hosting social and educational events for white and black students together.
UCA gained national recognition for its work for racial justice. There’s a lovely photograph on page 26 of the September 8, 1958 iss..., featuring children and youth – both black and white – sitting together at tables in the church’s Fellowship Hall. The title of the article is “Integration: Through the South, Some Progress, but Resistance Goes On.” And the caption for the photo reads: “Hopefuls in Arlington. Virginia Negro children who have applied to white schools, gather at dinner with white children in Unitarian church. Federal court last year ordered Arlington integration.”
In only a few years after the 1948 opening of the church building, UCA was bursting at the seams! Read Part 3 of this blog to see more photos and learn about the expansion which added the two-story RE wing.