Those who think Loudoun County may be a place to launch a divisive political agenda should look elsewhere. Loudoun is not Charlottesville, and there is no place in Loudoun for the activities that occurred recently in that city.
The debate has landed on our doorstep nonetheless, centered on the Confederate soldier statue on the grounds of Leesburg's courthouse "in memory of the Confederate soldiers of Loudoun County, Va." We cannot forget that many men, Confederate and Union, lost their lives in our county; Loudoun is truly hallowed ground. Nor can we forget Loudoun's enslaved population: In 1860, 5,501 slaves lived in Loudoun County — 25 percent of Loudoun's population of 21,744.
The call to remove the statue is the wrong approach. The Confederate soldier statue should stay where it is, but it should not stand alone on the courthouse grounds.
Loudoun County was a microcosm of our nation during the Civil War. It was a dynamic, ever-changing landscape. Confederate and Union troops heavily traversed Loudoun, situated across the Potomac from Maryland. Brother literally fought against brother in Loudoun. Deep scars were left in families and in communities as a result of a war fought and won to restore the Union and abolish slavery.
Loudoun's unique history comes alive to anyone who takes the time to discover it. "A Guide to Loudoun and the Civil War," published in 2011 upon the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, gives us deep insight into how multifaceted the Civil War was here in Loudoun. Our residents were Union, Confederate, black, white, enslaved, free, male, female, civilian and military. Waterford and Lovettsville held strong Union sentiments opposing secession, but Loudoun voted 1,626 to 726 to secede. The Loudoun Rangers, a partisan cavalry unit raised by Capt. Samuel Means, was the only unit formed in present-day Virginia to serve in the Union Army. Loudoun County's Civil War history is complex but worth understanding.
Instead of taking down statues from public areas, there are other ways to steer the discussion about the country's history. Talbot County, Md., the birthplace of civil rights leader Frederick Douglass, is one example of a community that got it right. Its courthouse has a memorial to the local men who fought for the Confederacy. Six years ago, the county added a statue of Douglass on the same courthouse grounds.
"I think it shows how this community has changed from a time when black people weren't allowed to even be on the courthouse lawn, and now we have a monument to a black man who was one of the most prominent figures of the 19th century," said Eric Lowery, president of the Frederick Douglass Honor Society. "It's truly a community project."
In 2015, Loudoun's Board of Supervisors voted to give $50,000 to support a slave memorial on the courthouse grounds. This is an important part of Loudoun's history that should memorialized. We should take this opportunity to educate our community about Loudoun's entire history. It is only proper that the Confederate statue be joined by a memorial to Loudoun's slaves and a memorial to its Union soldiers. In 2015, we were talking about telling Loudoun's whole story. This is still the correct approach.
We are always better off when we learn from each other. Let's not tear down one another or existing memorials. Instead, let's build our understanding of our history. Loudoun's unique history is our strength, not our weakness. We can't learn from history if we hide it.
The writer, a Republican, represents the Catoctin District on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.