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Hearing set for Oct. 4 in Belmont Slave Cemetery trustee fight

In three months, the fight over who will become the trustee of the historic Belmont Slave Cemetery in Ashburn owned by the Toll Brothers -- a prominent Pennsylvania-based developer -- will be heard in a Loudoun County courtroom.

On Wednesday, Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Horne denied a group of citizens' motion to intervene in Commonwealth Attorney Jim Plowman’s petition filed last month to open the slave cemetery trustee process to the public.

For more than two years members of the Loudoun Freedom Center headed by Holy and Whole Life Ministries Pastor Michelle Thomas have struggled to protect the slave cemetery from a road-widening project at the intersection of Route 7 and Belmont Ridge Road.

In recent months, Thomas has been working with the county and Toll Brothers on a plan to transfer the property from the Pennsylvania-based developer to a board of trustees that the petitioners would nominate.

However, those efforts came to halt last month after Plowman filed a petition on behalf of Toll Brothers to open the trustee-selection process to the public.

Thomas and petitioners say no one told them about the petition and claim Plowman cut them out of a process they spent years helping shape.

Plowman disputes that he cut anyone out of the process.

"I was always the petitioning agent, so how did I step in and 'cut anyone off.' The county knew all along," Plowman said in an email to the Times-Mirror. "Did they fail to tell them, I don’t know, but it looks like it. But that communication failure does not translate to me stepping in and cutting people out."

Plowman said he wants the trustee process to be more open to the public and believes the right to nominate trustees belongs to no one but the court.

Although Horne denied the group's motion to intervene, he scheduled a hearing on Oct. 4 to hear both the citizens' and Plowman's petitions. Toll Brothers officials are also expected to be present. By that time, other citizens interested in becoming trustees of the cemetery will have the opportunity to submit their qualifications, and on Oct. 4 the court will also hear whether there are any disagreements on the trustees.

After the hearing, Thomas told the Times-Mirror that although she was disappointed in Judge Horne's decision, she said it was still early in the process and that the “struggle for equity” was still ongoing.

“We're literally talking about ownership of property rights, and the truth is Toll Brothers cannot be in the business of owning people,” Thomas said. “We are not Toll Brothers' property. Those souls will be better-served having the stewardship in the hands of ancestors or people that understand the cultural context in which they live, that is the right thing to do.”

Comments


Why did Plowman step into a process that was being settled without his involvement?  Is there some conservative Republican political principle or right wing voter appeal involved, or any secret financial deal he might benefit from?  I just don’t trust him to be pure of some personal or political motive.


Sounds like Plowman is up to no good as usual. Why is he still in office?


Just don’t know why white people still want to own slaves.  They had no peace from white people in life and now even in death, white folks think they know better what’s best for them.  Must be a dollar somewhere, because here they come.


Let me bring you all up to speed. I have been working along with Pastor Michelle for the past two years coordinating the community interest for the preservation and restoration of the Belmont Slave Cemetery. Toll Brothers has been very wiling to transfer the property as long as their interests in profferer previously given to the County are not triggered and certain property boundaries are maintained. Also working along side to support the greater community concerns have been the Loudon Freedom center, and various groups including the Loudoun County Heritage Commission, the Thomas Balch Library Black History Committee and administrative staff from Loudoun County Government. All discussions that have been supported and recognized by the Loundoun County Board of Supervisiors were to conclude with a property transfer from Toll Brothers to the County and then from the County to a court appointed group of trustess. The county had agreed to recommend to the court trustees that were to be put forward by the working group led by pastor Michelle. this was where things were left after a last meeting in April with the County, VDOTand the county legal staff. In fact two drafts of the legal court petitions were drafted and circulated. These petitions had a property transfer from Toll Brothers to the County and the other had the county transfer to the court appointed trustees.  On June 9th we were notified that the Commonwealth Attorney, Jim Plowman had intervened and by his own admission decided that the county should not have a role to play in this matter and that he with our seeking inout or advice from anyone else had decided that the process of selecting trustees needed to more open to the public. the actions of concerned citizens yesterday was to fight against this hostile takeover of a process that was fair to all concerned and would allow the court to hear recommendation from the county about the qualifications of those who had been working the last two years to protect this property. Mr. Plowman referred to us yesterday as “Those People” adding insult to a situation where his intervention has proven to be unfair and disruptive to a process where he had no standing. His action to arbitrailly remove the county only proves his bad intent and allows him to control a process where the County and not the Commonwealth Attorney’s office has the responsible to protect people’s interest. Mr. Plowman nearly stared for the Court and all to hear that he was in court yesterday to represent the interests of Toll Brothers. The court disagreed with that representation and now on October 4th, Toll Brothers must appear in a show cause order and clearly state their desire to transfer the property to the court appointed trustees. It is not easy to understand the full gravity of the situation unless you have been active in most of the meetings. The culprit is not Toll Brothers but they are central figures and must conclude this business. I don’t believe the Mr. Plowman had no conversation with anyone on the County administrative or legal side but he will not reveal any of those conversations so we have proceeded to request email communications between his office and the county legal team. If that does not work we will keep reaching until we find out the true intent of this disruption. Mr. Plowman and maybe others have different motives for who should and should not become trustees for this sacred property but the Court and the Court of public opinion will have the final say. October 4th is also the date on which the court will hear testimony from those who have submitted applications to serve as trustees. We will be posting the application dates and who can receive those applications at a later date. Many thanks to all the concerned citizens, friends, elected officials Jennifer Wexton and Randy Minchew, who packed the courtroom. Special thanks to our great friends from the ADAMS center Rizwan Jaka and Priscilla Martinez and their family representing the interests of the muslim enslaved who are many among the dead buried in Belmont Cemetery. This site is also to be host this Fall of an Eagle Court project for one of their sons.
Anyone might want to become a trustee but how many want to be stewards of the many lives and families destroyed by slavery. This is more than property!


I thought those souls are in God’s hands? What kind of Biblical doctrine is being taught at Thomas’ church? Stewardship is concerning the property, not the souls.

Sounds like anyone can be a trustee of the land now.


I’m not sure why Thomas is blasting Toll Brothers,“We are not Toll Brothers’ property.” Toll Brothers has already volunteered to transfer the property, even though they didn’t have to.


It’s not very clear what is going on. If Toll Brothers is transferring property, why does anyone besides Toll Bros get to decide who the trustees are? Why does the county prosecutor have any interest in this case?

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