After the Leesburg Town Council’s vote to donate $25,740 to the Loudoun Freedom Center (LFC,) the group has agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the town to take ownership of the historic Sycolin Cemetery as soon as this week.
“The Loudoun Freedom Center is excited that the five-year fight to preserve the African-American burial ground at Sycolin is finally over,” said LFC founder and NAACP Loudoun Branch President Pastor Michelle Thomas.
The Sycolin Cemetery is the final resting place of approximately 65 Black Loudoun residents and has been owned by the Town of Leesburg since 1989. The property was brought to public notice in 2015 when the LFC and citizens called attention to deer carcasses left on the site.
Located at 19976 Sycolin Road near the Leesburg Executive Airport, Sycolin Cemetery is situated over a natural spring and is prone to flooding. Staff have estimated that installing flood mitigation measures would cost around $150,000.
In May, the LFC told the town that it would not sign the MOU until the town covered the cost of mitigating flooding on the property.
At the July 27 town council meeting, Councilwoman Suzanne Fox initiated the donation of $25,740, based on her calculations of the estimated amount of money the town would save in staff time and maintenance for the next 30 years. The council passed the resolution 5-2.
Vice Mayor Fernando “Marty” Martinez, who supported the resolution, said that he voted the way he did to honor the descendants of those interred at the cemetery, some of whom live in Loudoun today.
“I’m glad we were able to do something,” he said. “I consider [Sycolin Cemetery] a historic piece of property, and I think we should do this to recognize the value of our African-American community.”
Mayor Kelly Burk, who voted against the measure, said that she honors the will of town council and is glad the LFC will be taking ownership of the cemetery.
“I’m most certainly happy that this is resolved and that we can move forward,” she said. “We only wish [the LFC] success.”
Thomas told the Times-Mirror that the donation will begin to help the LFC install gravestones, preserve the site and install an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant path.
“A lot of times African Americans are told to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, but they don’t even have boots,” she said. “[This is] one foot of the boot... The act of funding a partial amount is the olive branch that is needed to begin healing in the Sycolin community.”
Thomas said that she’s been working on finalizing the memorandum of understanding with Deputy Town Manager Keith Markel and expects to sign it this week.