An open house at the Loudoun County Courthouse on Feb. 11 highlighted the century of segregation in Virginia that followed the Civil War and the abolishing of slavery.
The Clerk of the Circuit Court’s Office displayed records that document the separate and unequal treatment of African Americans in the county during that time. Documents reveal how segregation pervaded all areas of life, including the education, public services and land transactions.
Many of the records pertained to the public schools, from the 1883 purchase of land for the Union Street School in Leesburg to the 1959 sale of that and four other properties that had housed schools for African American children. Among those properties was the former Ashburn Colored School, which was vandalized last year and is being restored by the Loudoun School for the Gifted.
A 1930 entry in the Board of Supervisors’ minutes book indicated that $122,780 had been allocated for teachers’ salaries in white schools, and $13,254 for teachers in “colored” schools.
Historic records manager Eric Larson showed records indicating that a public-interest group called the County-Wide League was influential in acquiring land and building Frederick Douglass High School in Leesburg. The school, which opened in 1940, was the first high school for African American students in Loudoun.
Board of Supervisors records from 1956 show that the County-Wide League advocated for desegregation of the schools when Sterling Harrison, president of the local chapter of a group called the Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, submitted a petition in favor of segregation. Harrison was Loudoun’s Commonwealth’s Attorney at that time, Larson said.
“There was a night and day view of how schools should be run in Loudoun County,” Larson said. “This is interesting because now the ball is starting to roll toward desegregation.” Even so, schools remained segregated in Loudoun until the late 1960s, he said.
Segregation was also evident in other records. An 1891 property tax registry and a 1902 voter roll had separate listings for whites and African Americans. Larson said that the taxpayer listings were separated by race until 1963.
Some of the records predated the Civil War, including an 1852 entry in the Record of Free Negroes certifying that Joseph Trammell was a free man. The record provided a detailed physical description of Trammell — “dark complexion, 21 years of age, five feet seven inches high [with] a small scar in the forehead and one on his left arm, six or eight inches above the wrist.”
Larson said that Trammell carried a copy of his freedom papers in a metal box. That box is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The open house also featured coins, buttons, ceramics and other artifacts collected from the 2005 excavation of the site of slave quarters near Arcola.
Xavier and Katrice Walker of Loudoun County brought their two sons, ages 15 and 9, to the open house. The boys particularly liked the artifacts from the archaeological dig.
“I know that a lot of places don’t have good records on enslaved families and how they were dispersed amongst the different outlying counties,” Katrice Walker said. “Loudoun did a great job of maintaining those records and making sure we have account of those people.”
Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary M. Clemens said that the open house was held during Black History Month to increase awareness of the variety of African American historical records his office maintains and makes available to the public.
“It’s a real treasure that we have these . . . because a lot of court records in Virginia were destroyed during the Civil War, or otherwise have been lost,” Clemens said.