What should stand where the rebel soldier stood on the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds? I suggest a statue of Charles Hamilton Houston.
Before I tell you who he was and why he belongs there, let’s reflect on what a courthouse statue should represent.
Our Constitution committed our republic to do away with the arbitrary rule of kings substituting certain basic rights of the accused and a legal process which guaranteed a fair trial. The statue in front of the courthouse should be of a man or woman who committed their life to fulfilling that commitment.
Most of our citizens are unaware of the fact that one of the great battles for civil rights occurred right here in Leesburg. As local reporter David Bradley writes in his book, “The Historic Trial of George Crawford,” this battle was fought and won in 1933 at our courthouse. The battle was for integrated juries in Virginia, where African Americans were routinely tried by all-white juries and routinely received draconian sentences.
The commanding general in this battle was Charles Hamilton Houston.
Houston was the grandson of a slave, a World War I veteran, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College, a Harvard Law School honor graduate and the dean of Howard University Law School, where he trained the future cadre of civil rights lawyers. Perhaps his most important leadership qualifications were intelligence, sheer guts and fortitude.
Facing incredible obstacles in a state where segregation was enshrined in the laws and lynching common, where interracial marriage was a crime and where there was only one African American registered voter in all of Loudoun County, Houston led his small forces to victory, reaffirming the right to a jury of one’s peers.
Dr. Houston was also very well-known locally before World War II as an adviser to the Loudoun County NAACP and the countrywide league, which successfully fought for the first African American high school in Loudoun, Frederick Douglass High School.
Although it wasn’t until 35 years later, in 1968, that Loudoun County finally desegregated, Houston’s leadership was a necessary step in that long road to freedom for all of our citizens — both here in Loudoun and nationally.
Paul Kreingold is a Leesburg resident.