The Loudoun Board of Supervisors issued a historic vote March 24 that resonated with the county’s African American residents: At a special redistricting meeting, the board voted to rename the former Dulles District in honor of Jennie Dean, a freed slave and preacher who founded the landmark Prosperity Baptist Church in Chantilly.
It will be the first magisterial district in Loudoun history named after an African American, county officials said.
The Library of Virginia said it could not confirm whether it is the first in the state.
For Prosperity Baptist Church members and Dean’s descendants, the decision marks a powerful and poignant step forward. More than 20 church members and several descendants of the Dean family watched in the county board room as the supervisors cast their votes.
Pastor Carlos Lawson, who has preached at Prosperity Baptist for 10 years, said he was excited to see the district given a name “that embraces the history of the South Riding area.” He said the church had rallied the support of Loudoun’s African American community and also former residents.
“It was quite a few people who responded and sent e-mails to the Board of Supervisors,” Lawson said. “The older community in particular had that connection with the past. They seemed to grasp that history.”
For newer residents of South Riding, the church’s outreach offered an opportunity to learn about the community’s past, Lawson said.
An event to celebrate Dean’s heritage is being planned for the summer in the South Riding area, he said.
Larry Roeder, a Democratic candidate for county supervisor in the Dean District, helped drive the initiative by appealing for the board’s support. He said he was thrilled that Loudoun is honoring a “vibrant, important population within our county.”
He said that the community was elated by the victory, which “was a way to shine a light on the heritage of Jennie Dean.”
The initiative received largely bipartisan support on the board. Supervisor Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) cast the only opposing vote. Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) abstained after expressing regret that the new name was tied to a political campaign, although he did not name Roeder.
“It’s a fine idea, and if there were a different context, I would most wholeheartedly want to consider the history of our county as a source for the designations of its magisterial districts,” Miller said. “I think that the origin of this idea, unfortunately, began with a purpose that would ever associate it with something political. The memory of someone like Jennie Dean should not be tainted with that. . . . I think this is a step that confuses a noble purpose, so I ask that we retain the name Dulles.”
Supervisor Sarah R. “Sally” Kurtz (D-Catoctin) disagreed with Miller’s interpretation, saying that politics often represents a way to make positive change.
“While Mr. Miller seems to cast a negative light on politics, I think it is politics where your best foot comes forward . . . where we keep alive all the good things about us,” she said. “So I don’t mind at all that this is political.”
Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg), who proposed the motion to rename the district, said she was thrilled to be a part of the landmark vote.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this historic moment,” she said. “It’s wonderful to finally have a district that’s named after a woman, an African American woman, that represents the very best of us. I’m very excited today.”
The supervisors also renamed two other districts: District 5, which contains areas of Ashburn and Landsdowne, was named Ashdowne; District 2, in the northeast corner of the county, was named Algonkian. To see the maps, go to www.loudoun.gov/default.aspx?tabid=3414.
The eight-district map includes five eastern districts and two hybrid districts — Blue Ridge and Catoctin — which include large parts of the county’s western region but also stretch farther east to include more densely populated areas.
County staff members will advertise ordinances related to the preliminarily approved map through mid-April. A special redistricting meeting has been scheduled for April 26, when the board is expected to issue a final vote on the map.