By Brenda J. Cox
ARLINGTON, VA – Sunday, February 9, 2020, proved to be a seminal moment in the life of Lomax African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, located in Arlington, Virginia. On that day, the Center for Local History at the Arlington Central Library, led by Judith Knudsen, had a special program to announce its acquisition of an historic pulpit Bible and other historical documents donated by Lomax. The library also hosted a reception in recognition of the occasion. Arlington County Board Chair, Libby Garvey, and Board Members Matt de Ferranti and Christian Dorsey were present. Ms. Garvey gave remarks.
The library has put on permanent public display the “First Pulpit Bible” of Lomax Church, which was published in 1856. The Bible is ten years older than our church, which was founded in 1866. The library has had the Bible restored by an archivist and has purchased a special light and climate-controlled case in which to permanently display the historic Bible. Also, on display is the study Bible of former Lomax pastor, Rev. Arthur W. Walls, Sr., which contains his study notes. This Bible was donated by his family. In addition to that, the church had transferred 40 boxes of historical documents to the library, which are being cataloged to be put in the public domain. This will result in a Lomax archive at the library.
The day began with Bishop and Mrs. W. Darin Moore worshipping with the members of Lomax as we focused upon Zion History as a part of our month long Black History commemoration. Also present in worship were Washington District Presiding Elder and Mrs. Alvin T. Durant and Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District Administrative Elder Reverend Dr. Rita J. Colbert. Bishop Moore’s sermon title was ”Makes Me Wanna Holler,” based upon Habakkuk 1:1-4.
The day’s morning worship service was significant in that we had people in attendance that connected us to families associated with Lomax almost from our beginning. In attendance were Marsha Clark and Brenda Elliott, great-great granddaughters of the late Bishop Thomas H. Lomax, for whom Lomax is named. They are currently members of Beth Shalom AME Zion Church, located in Clinton, Maryland, where Reverend Dr. Darrell J. Gaskin is the pastor. Also, in attendance that Sunday were Arthur Walls, Jr., Reverend Brenda Walls, and Mrs. Marionne Walls Fort, the children of one Lomax’s former pastors, Reverend Arthur W. Walls. Reverend Walls served as pastor of Lomax from 1960 to 1976. Arthur Walls, Jr. travelled from Charlotte, North Carolina and his sisters, Reverend Brenda Walls and Mrs. Marionne Walls Fort, travelled from Indianapolis, Indiana to be with us on this momentous occasion. Reverend Walls was the pastor of Lomax when the Arlington community was going through the process of integration. For 30 years, Lomax was the meeting place for the local Arlington Branch of the NAACP, including when Rev. Walls was working with the NAACP during integration.
At the library’s afternoon program, Bishop Moore impressed upon us the importance of acknowledging our history, saying, “those who fail to study the past will find themselves repeating it.” He shared with us that one of the early bishops of our church, Bishop James Walker Hood, noted in 1875 that the major challenges of our race then were the lack of adequate education, voter suppression, and mass incarceration. Truer words could not be said about the times in which we live today!
Lomax Church was organized by freed slaves in Freedman’s Village, a section of Arlington, Virginia, on June 12, 1866, under the pastorate of Reverend Richard Thompkins. The original name of our church was Wesley Zion Church. In 1874, the congregation, led by the Rev. L. Granderson Mitchell, decided to purchase land for a permanent home with an original sale price of $75.00 and a down payment of $5.00, made by Rev. Mitchell and Mrs. Julia Swanigan. In May 1876, when Bishop T. H. Lomax was elected a bishop and assigned to our area, the name of the church was changed to Lomax African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. In the 1960s, Mr. George Bullock, father of current member Gerald Bullock, took the option on the land in the rear of the church securing it until the church was in a financial position to purchase it, which is why Lomax has ample parking today in its urban setting.
As was stated by our current pastor, the Reverend Dr. Adrian V. Nelson, II, at the afternoon program, “Lomax’s history runs deep” in the Arlington community. Hanging permanently in the Center for Local History of the Arlington Central Library, there is a portrait of the ancestor of the Rowe family, whose family members Mr. Elroy Rowe and Mrs. Gloria Rowe Little remain active members of Lomax. Their ancestor, Mr. Rowe, was the son of a slave holder and an enslaved person. Mr. Rowe’s father saw to it that he was educated and as a result Mr. Rowe served as an elected official in Arlington during Reconstruction.
Yes, Lomax has a rich history. Lomax members were actively involved in the marches on lunch counters, movies, and other public accommodations. They also housed and fed a group in the church’s fellowship hall that came from Selma, Alabama to Washington, DC for the “March on Washington” in 1963. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke on the Lomax parking lot the day before the March. Current Lomax member Mrs. Roxie Johnson has a photo of that occasion that captures Dr. King, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Rev. Arthur Walls, and Father Ray, the then minister of Our Lady Queen of Peace Church Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, some may not know that Mrs. Irene Flack, the mother of music icon Roberta Flack, was the church organist at Lomax for years. In fact, Roberta Flack, herself, also served as Lomax’s organist for a period of time. Also, part of Lomax’s rich history includes the fact that our Arthur W. Walls Education Building was designed by famous African American architects Charles and Robert Bryant, who both grew up at Lomax and in the local community. The Bryants, having majored in Architecture at Howard University, became the deans of Black architects in the United States of America. Lomax was placed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 2003. And, on January 26, 1992, President George H.W. Bush worshiped at Lomax.
The historical documents and pulpit Bible donated by Lomax reminds us that as a church “we’ve come this far by faith!” It is our hope that Lomax’s history and roots will continue to run deep in the Arlington community for generations to come.