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Massive road construction project disturbs historic slave cemetery in Ashburn

Pastor Michelle Thomas, founder and executive director of the Loudoun Freedom Foundation, points out where Toll Brother’s construction has encroached upon a dry pound that may contain human remains. Times-Mirror/Hannah Dellinger
The historic resting place of at least 43 former slaves is being encroached upon and impacted by construction for a road-widening project at the intersection of Route 7 and Belmont Ridge Road, according to various groups working to preserve it.

Pastor Michelle Thomas of Holy and Whole Life Ministries and the Loudoun Freedom Foundation have been fighting to protect and preserve the Belmont Slave Cemetery in Ashburn for years. Toll Brothers, who own the property and is conducting the road widening, agreed to convey the land to Thomas’ church to preserve after “intense” negotiations. While conducting a site survey with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office last week, Thomas said she noticed new troubling “damages and desecrations” to the hallowed ground.

“I saw there was some encroachment of the dry pond area,” said Thomas during a press conference at the site Oct. 26. “The fence had been moved about 50 feet back.”

The construction’s infringement of the property line is troubling, said Thomas, because the dry pond may contain human remains. ''

Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun NAACP (center), Ron Campbell, candidate for Leesburg Town Council (to Thompson's right), Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society's board (far right) and others gather in prayer at the historic resting place of at least 43 former slaves.
Times-Mirror/Hannah Dellinger


When the dry pond was installed for drainage in the 1950s, it was dug out with a backhoe in a way that wasn’t “respectful to the graves,” said Thomas. The process could have moved remains into the dry pound, she added.

Ground-penetrating studies of the site, which could show graves deep beneath the soil’s surface, haven’t been conducted yet, according to Fred Snowden, the Freedom Foundation’s director of research and education.

“We’re standing on graves that have been here some 200 years and the entire grave site is on a downslope toward the construction,” he said. “When the water flows from a serious storm, it doesn’t just flow on top. It also flows beneath the surface.”

Water flow could have pushed human remains toward the area that was recently taken over by construction, so it is possible graves could have been disturbed, said Snowden.

Debris from the construction that mixed together with water created a sludge that was about a foot away from the pond, the pastor said.

Thomas said she also found human feces and used toilet paper near the pond.

“Maybe construction workers used the restroom back here and that’s an environmental hazard,” she said.

A line of trees that served as a buffer from the wind for the wooded cemetery was recently removed, Thomas said.

“All of these old trees are now exposed to heavy winds and they’re coming down,” she said. “There are trees down all over the place.”

Toll Brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the construction’s impact on the cemetery.

The disrespect to the cemetery is emblematic of a larger problem, according to Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP.

“In Loudoun County, there seems to be an issue with protecting African American sites,” he said. “Several other African American sites have been impacted by development.”

Thomas said it is critical to respect and maintain the cemetery and all of Loudoun’s African American history.

“It’s critical because the county does not currently have many places that memorialize African Americans,” she said. “It’s critical because they existed and they deserve to be remembered. It matters because we matter.”

Comments


By my count:
One “seems”
One “some”
Two “about"s
Two “maybe"s
Three “could have"s
One “possible”


I agree with the first part of morpar19. This article provides no information to support there is a mass gravesite at this location. Ms. Thomas only claims there “maybe” remains in the area. I don’t think the Toll Brothers are required to do anything since they own the land, but it sounds like they are willing to move some land to Ms. Thomas’ church, which could be expensive for just a ‘maybe’.


Seems like poor timing with All Hallows Eve approaching.  I’ve seen enough movies to know that disturbing the deceased never ends well.


Toll Brothers - if you have a contractual, moral or ethical responsibility to protect the final resting place of many people’s loved one’s, please accept your “burden” or discuss with community leaders possible options. If there are issues with the environment, contact the appropriate agency in lieu of crying Wolf to the the media and hyping matters. Mr. Thompson - it seems most of Loudoun in wiping away much of OUR history, not black history. You tend to sensationalize everything to fit your narrative, but we all need to help to preserve OUR past in lieu of tearing it down, including aspects that you may not agree with, as I see it from one perspective, the way my ancestry did.


There seems to be a lot of “maybes” in this story.  The church should pass the collection plate around and build an overpass over the site.


Unfortunately it is no surprise that the County allowed this to happen. Is the County in charge of this project, Toll Brothers or VDOT ? By the way what is the name of the construction company who was awarded millions to construct the road but is unable to read construction plans ?

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