The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted last week to support a proposal to build a memorial on the county courthouse grounds in Leesburg to commemorate the slaves who were sold on the building’s steps and the soldiers who fought for the Union during the Civil War.
The board voted Wednesday to contribute $50,000 toward the memorial, which the local chapter of the NAACP has proposed as a way to present a more complete history of Loudoun’s involvement in the Civil War. The only commemoration of the war at the site is a statue of a Confederate soldier.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) proposed the commitment of $50,000 toward the project, with the money to be held in reserve until all of the necessary funding is raised.
York had previously said that groups proposing such a memorial would be responsible for its cost. He said Wednesday that, after attending a July 18 “remembrance rally” organized by the Loudoun NAACP, he decided it would be good for the supervisors to show support for the initiative.
“It’s not just about the $50,000,” he said. “It’s simply for us to say that we support the concept of a memorial recognizing those that have been enslaved in this community, particularly those that were sold on the courthouse grounds . . . [and] also to recognize the members from Loudoun County who fought in the Civil War on the Union side.”
York’s motion in support of the planned memorial passed unanimously, with Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) absent. Supervisor Kenneth D. Reid (R-Leesburg) abstained from a separate vote on the $50,000 allocation, saying that he thought more money would be needed to complete the project.
Loudoun NAACP President Phillip E. Thompson said in an interview that he had considered asking that the Confederate soldier monument be moved from its location in front of the old courthouse. After researching the issue, though, he concluded that a Virginia statute prohibits such a move. York had said that he would oppose moving the statue, “regardless of Virginia statute.”
While researching the history of African Americans in Loudoun, Thompson said, he learned that the courthouse played a role in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and that slaves had been sold on the courthouse grounds.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t we have anything up here showing what really happened? . . . Why don’t we have a memorial for this?’ ” he said.
A portion of the $50,000 might be used to place a historical marker recognizing the courthouse’s role in the Underground Railroad. York estimated that such a marker would cost $1,000 to $2,000.
Donna Bohanon, chairwoman of the Black History Committee of the Friends of Thomas Balch Library, told supervisors that such a memorial was “long overdue.”
“There are more stories to tell — and not just stories, but stories that are backed up by information and data that we have in our own Loudoun County archives,” Bohanon said. “These are our hidden treasures, and they have been kept in our courthouse archives for too long.”
After the vote, Thompson said he appreciated the supervisors’ words of support.
“I thought a lot of that was very genuine,” he said. “We know it’s a political election year, but we know that [the board members] understand the unique history here.”
“If we’re able to accomplish this and get a memorial for slaves, we believe this will be the first time in the history of this country that a memorial for slaves is actually placed in the center of a small Southern city, where you’ve got a Confederate monument,” Thompson said.
Bohanon said that the board’s commitment of $50,000 toward the project would definitely help stimulate fundraising efforts.
The Loudoun NAACP and the Black History Committee will work together to form a nonprofit group that will organize the fundraising campaign, officials from both groups said. Thompson estimated that $250,000 to $500,000 would be needed for the project.
Barnes is a freelance writer.