When was the last time Loudoun elected an African-American supervisor or state lawmaker?
1709-1720s: Initial Loudoun settlers populate their grants of land with slaves and white overseers. One overseer superintends fewer than a dozen slaves.
October 1859: Following John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, 50 Hillsboro militiamen, ages 15 to 75, trek to the Ferry to "protect Loudoun.'" Free blacks stay clear of the militia and avoid whites in authority.
Fall 1965: Sterling Park, Loudoun's first large subdivision, has its first black family among some 400 others. Blacks are reluctant to move to what they perceive is a rural segregated county.
Winter 2003: Only in eastern Loudoun and in the newer sectors of Leesburg, where most minorities live – having recently moved to the county – is society fully integrated. In established Leesburg and western Loudoun, blacks usually live in separate areas. Historians say black society and white society remain socially apart.
Date to be determined: Voters in Loudoun County elect the first African-American to serve on the county Board of Supervisors or in the Virginia General Assembly.
In Loudoun's 257-year history, the local electorate has sent hundreds of lawmakers to Richmond to serve in the oldest continuous law-making body in the Americas. Hundreds more politicians – Republicans, Democrats, independents – have been voted into office as members of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.
Not one of those legislators has been an African-American.
Cultural trends, a “family-first” mentality, disinterest and a relatively low African-American population were prominent reasons given by local historians and leaders in the black community who recently spoke with the Times-Mirror on the topic. While those interviewed agreed the time has come for an African-American to hold a local seat on the Board of Supervisors or in the General Assembly, none expressed with unwavering confidence that that day would come soon.
“The African-American community here in Loudoun is still growing,” said Monte Johnson, a 32-year-old black man who lost a House of Delegates contest last November to incumbent Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th). “There are some parts that are older, but there's a lot that's new. As the black community becomes more organized and more structured, you know, then it'll be easier to rally when there's an African-American candidate.”
The demographics in Loudoun remain less than favorable for a minority to win elected office, and that's arguably the primary reason there's never been an African-American county supervisor or General Assemblyman from Loudoun. Of the county's roughly 345,000 people, less than 8 percent are black, compared to 68 percent white; African-Americans aren't even the largest minority in Loudoun – that distinction goes to the nearly 15 percent Asian community.
“There's a certain demographic mix that you have to have,” Mr. Johnson said. “I don't think it would've even been close” for a black candidate to succeed before this millennium, he noted.
Eugene Scheel, a local historian based in Waterford, suggested the odds have always been against a black man or woman seeking public office in Loudoun. Moreover, Mr. Scheel said, there's been a shortage of qualified African-American candidates stepping up to run.
“There's been a slight lack of candidates. Running for office in Loudoun County takes a lot of funds, and there haven't been a lot of well-to-do African-Americans,” Mr. Scheel said,. “There just haven't been people who have all the elements.”
Several years ago, Mr. Scheel compiled a historical timeline of significant moments in Loudoun African-American history. As recently as 2003 – as stated above – Mr. Scheel reported a segregated society in wealthy and affluent Loudoun.
Despite a black man earning terms in the White House in 2008 and 2012, Americans are still split in their views of race and opportunity, according to an Emerson College Polling Society survey released Feb. 4.
“Americans appear to be generally split on whether or not minority groups and Caucasians are on an equal playing field,” states a recap of the poll, which surveyed nearly 1,000 registered voters. “27 percent believe non-Caucasians have more opportunities, 30 percent think they have fewer, 32 percent said they have the same amount, and 7 percent judged it dependent on other factors."
“African-Americans and Hispanics believe that minority groups have fewer opportunities ( 53 percent and 39 percent, respectively) compared to 27 percent of Caucasians,” the poll found.
But there's more to it than simply opportunity, it seems. The view of politics in the local black community is a big factor, commented Mr. Johnson and James Roberts, a life-long Loudoun resident and well-known figure in the African-American community.
“Politics can be seen as selfish,” Mr. Johnson said.
“Many African-Americans may say politics just isn't that important. It isn't worth it,” Mr. Roberts, who served on Middleburg Town Council in the late 1970s, explained.
Mr. Roberts said politics is too often a slow process and requires a lot of “deal-making” and “back room deals,” something he suggested would sour potential African-American candidates.
“I realized quickly it wasn't really for me,” Mr. Roberts said of his stint as a public official.
“It doesn't surprise me there hasn't been a black candidate win yet. They know what they're up against,” he said.
One facet of “what they're up against,” Mr. Roberts answered, is a “good old boy” network with deep roots in the county. Still, he's optimistic that the power cabal will disintegrate with a growing and more diverse electorate.
From a historical standpoint, Mr. Scheel remarked, it wasn't feasible to see an African-American win a supervisors or General Assembly seat in Loudoun until roughly the 1970s, because of racial hostility and segregation in the former slave state.
Mr. Johnson wasn't quite as generous with his supposition. Strictly from a demographic standpoint, Mr. Johnson said it wasn't realistic to think a black man or woman could win elected office in Loudoun until early in the 21st century.
Despite losing his race to Del. Minchew by double digits, Mr. Johnson said running for elected office was a positive, albeit eye-opening, episode.
Mr. Johnson was the first local African-American candidate since Democrats Phyllis Randall and Kevin Turner ran in 2007 for the Loudoun Board of Supervisors and School Board, respectively. Ms. Randall was the first black Board of Supervisors candidate in the county's history, according to a 2011 Times-Mirror story.
Said Mr. Johnson, “It was a phenomenal learning experience. I enjoyed talking to the voters. I felt everyone gave me a genuine, fair opportunity every time I talked with them.”
Opening dates provided by Eugene Scheel at LoudounHistory.org.
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