From Antebellum plantations and still-standing stone slave quarters, to hidden cemeteries, historic black churches and sites commemorating the National Underground Railroad, Loudoun honors its African American heritage without shying away from its past. February is Black History Month and Loudoun marks the commemoration with a series of talks and events on how African Americans shaped, and continue to shape, the story of Loudoun.
On Saturday, February 1st (10am-4pm) the Black History Committee Friends of the Thomas Balch Library host Essence of a People: Preserving African American Sites and Stories, an open house led by historian Arlean Hill. The event explores successful multi-year local efforts to save such Loudoun landmarks as the Settle-Dean Cabin (log cabin of formerly enslaved Thomas Settle in South Riding); and the 1800s-built stone Arcola Slave Quarters in Sterling, in the face of development.
Three weeks later, on Sunday, February 23rd (2pm), the library will host award-winning University of Maryland African American Studies academic (and hip-hop authority) Jason Nichols. Nichols, who traces his family’s roots in the Hamilton area back to the late 1700s, will speak on his Loudoun ancestry, Dr. Martin Luther King and African Americans who fought in the Vietnam War.
In Eastern Loudoun, the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum will host three speakers who will discuss the African American-owned farms of Sterling in the 20th Century. The Saturday, February 15th event (1pm) will focus on the Ewing, Edds and Nokes families who operated successful dairy and wheat farms in the area. Indeed, parts of Sterling are still known as Nokesville today, and among the speakers will be a descendant of the Edds family whose dairy farm was at what is now the busy intersection of Countryside Blvd and Route 7.
Loudoun’s African American story exists beyond Black History Month and there are countless ways to explore this storied past. The Thomas Balch Library, Loudoun County Courthouse and Oatlands Historic House & Gardens are all listed as National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Sites by the National Parks Service and are worth visiting outside of the above events, and you can celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of Loudoun’s African Americans over a cocktail or dinner at the swanky Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, owned by billionaire African American businesswoman Sheila Johnson.