World War I Memorial Plaque

The World War I memorial plaque on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse in Leesburg.

War monuments and memorials have long been divisive topics in Loudoun County, but on Wednesday came a decision on which people of differing backgrounds and political parties could get behind.

Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this week to move forward with altering the county’s nearly century-old World War I monument. The reason for the adjustment: to desegregate the names of white and Black soldiers who gave their lives for our nation during The Great War.

As Times-Mirror reporter Nathaniel Cline first reported earlier this year, the bronze plaque on the Loudoun County World War I Memorial has stood in the heart of Leesburg for nearly 100 years. Located on the charming grounds of the county courthouse, the plaque lists the names of 30 service members from Loudoun who died during war. Segregated by two engraved lines are the names of 27 white service members who died — those are on top — and three Black men who also perished.

County Supervisor Mike Turner (D-Ashburn), a veteran himself, is leading the charge for change. He garnered support for the initiative from the Loudoun County VFW Post 1177, the American Legion Post 34, the Loudoun County Foreign War Memorial Trust Fund Advisory Committee and all of his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

“This is a really positive message, I think, and I’m very pleased do this and proud to be involved with it,” Turner said this week.

Fellow first-term Supervisor Juli Briskman (D-Algonkian) said the adjustments will right a wrong that lasted far too long.

“I’m very proud to support this,” Briskman said. “Not only did African Americans fight along with white soldiers in World War I — and honorably — many faced severe discrimination when they came back, and just for having the audacity to wear their uniforms at times they were beaten and even worse.”

Like so many signs and symbols across Virginia and the nation, the segregated plaque in downtown Leesburg was an example of racism at once subtle and blatant; subtle in that most people who observed the plaque may not have noticed the dividing line or been aware of its purpose, and blatant in that — once the viewer is clued up the names on top are white veterans, and those on bottom are Black — there could be no clearer designation of outright ignorance, disrespect and small-mindedness.

Turner now proposes a new plaque alphabetizing the names, and he hopes for a re-dedication ceremony in 2022, the 100th anniversary of the memorial’s installation. We look forward to being there.

2020 has, by and large, been a grim year without much to celebrate. But the current Board of Supervisors’ work in seeing to it that the Confederate Civil War monument was removed from the courthouse grounds and that the World War I plaque is adjusted are moves on which we’ll look back fondly.

(1) comment

jke

Just like in World War I the soldiers served in segregated units and the 3 would be honored to have it known that they were black representatives of their country during the war and not alphabetized.

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