Loudoun County supervisors will weigh a report and recommendations from the county Heritage Commission on the history and exhibition of the courthouse grounds in downtown Leesburg.
This comes after supervisors voted Tuesday to publish the county commission’s research and narrative on the courthouse grounds and its memorials. The commission's research will be published online and in the county's public libraries.
The board's finance committee will initially take up the commission’s recommendations, most of which involve government action.
One recommendation is naming either the current or upcoming county courthouse after early civil rights leader, lawyer and educator Charles Hamilton Houston. The commission also recommends completing a National Historic Landmark nomination for the courthouse for submission to the National Parks Service, designing and installing a “Path Toward Freedom and Justice Walk,” erecting a Civil War Veterans’ Memorial to the U.S. Colored Troops, Loudoun Rangers, and Potomac Home Brigade and developing a Life and Liberty Memorial.
“We think it’s essential that citizens be aware of this history before engaging in a debate on what new memorials to place on the courthouse grounds,” commission member Robert Pollard said.
The commission’s scope of work did not include recommendations about current memorials or statues. County officials noted Virginia code states it is “unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials.”
The current Confederate monument on the courthouse grounds, erected in 1908, has sparked protests in recent years, notably following the deadly riots in Charlottesville that came after the city's vote to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In September 2017, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors directed the Heritage Commission to review the historic significance of the courthouse grounds and its statues and to determine what additional memorials would be appropriate to reflect the history of the grounds, the county and its citizens.
The commission, which established a nine-member subcommittee, focused on the history of the local African American community, identified over 30 stakeholders and consulted with historians, eventually finalizing recommendations in December 2018, according to county staff.
“We see this as an opportunity for the entire Loudoun community, especially those that know nothing or have very little knowledge of local African American history or African American perspective on history,” commissionmember Donna Bohanon said.
Catoctin District Supervisor Geary Higgins (R) said, “I thoroughly believe that we can’t learn from history if we don’t know it, and so what you all have done is shine the light of day on it, and I thank you very much for all of your work on this project.”
Dulles Supervisor Matthew Letourneau (R) offered a motion to accept the research and send the recommendations to a future finance committee meeting. Higgins was the only supervisor opposing the substitute motion.
Letourneau, who sympathized with Higgins' desire to move forward quickly, said seeking assistance from county staff will help determine the right path forward for the recommendations.
“I’ve found in my seven and half years that when we try to do things ourselves—as well-intentioned as we are—we often don’t do as good a job as when county staff helps us with them,” Letourneau said. “So, this will allow that to happen and the committee will be able to give direction.”