February is Black History Month – a celebration of Black achievement and a time to recognize the central role African Americans have had in shaping U.S. history and culture. Here we highlight five ways to honor the occasion in Loudoun, from visiting public art pieces in downtown Leesburg to attending local events and supporting Black owned businesses.
Several murals in downtown Leesburg depict the extraordinary contribution of African Americans to the county’s history. In January 2023, the “Journey to Freedom” mural on the wall of the Loudoun Museum was officially unveiled. Created by Black, Washington DC artist Shawn Perkins, the piece depicts Bazil Newman, a Black 19tth Century Loudoun landowner and ferry business operator taking a young Black boy across the Potomac to freedom in Maryland on a moonlit night, Newman’s brother looking on. Revered Loudoun abolitionist Leonard Grimes observes from the riverbank.
A short walk east of the museum, on the walls of the public garage on Lassiter Way, murals by local artist Kim P. Kim depict two beloved Black Leesburg business owners: Robinson’s Barbershop proprietor and US Marine Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter who passed away in 2020 aged 83, and Marie Medley-Howard, said to be the first African American woman to own a business in town – a beauty salon.
There are many sites to visit throughout Loudoun that honor Black heritage. In September 2022 the historic Oak Grove community in eastern Loudoun, an area built and developed by African Americans in the late 19th Century after they purchased their own land following emancipation, received the first commemorative sign of the new “Journey to Freedom Heritage Trails.” The trail is set to incorporate other Black Loudoun landmarks such as the Settle-Dean Cabin in Chantilly, ultimately creating a countywide trail connecting Loudoun’s Black history sites.
Another essential stop is the African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont, the largest cemetery for enslaved people in Loudoun. Located off Route 7 east of Leesburg, the ground features a cleared pathway through the woods linking burial sites of formerly enslaved people at Belmont Plantation. The Loudoun Freedom Center preserves it as a historic site for visitors.
For other locations and monuments, check out our page here.
The Thomas Balch Library: Hybrid Class to Highlight African American Genealogy
On February 2 at 10 a.m. join Steve Hammond, a 7th generation member of the African American Syphax family of Washington, DC and Lori Kimball, a member of the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library as they host a two-hour virtual and in-person class on how to trace genealogy. Hammond and Kimball will use case studies and examples from their research and Hammond will share his efforts to make the field more relatable and relevant to the public at large.
Loudoun County Public Library: Nathan Leslie
On February 15 at 7 p.m. at the Loudoun County Public Library in Leesburg author and Northern Virginia Community College professor Nathan Leslie will present a survey of African American writers who have made an indelible impact on American life and culture.
Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum: Just Country Living
February 19 the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum in Sterling will unveil an exhibit of artifacts from the Nokes family, the prominent Black farming family who lent their name to Nokesville, an unincorporated hamlet populated by Black Loudoun residents during the Jim Crow era in what is today’s Sterling. The exhibit includes details of their ingenious manure spreader and stories of other Black farmers in eastern Loudoun. The exhibit runs until December 31.
Black History Month Wine Pairing Dinner: Market Salamander In honor of Black History Month, Market Salamander executive Chef Pete Smith presents the second annual Black History Month Wine Pairing Dinner at 7pm on February 24, 25 and 26. Chef Pete and Kindra Dionne of The Fifty Leven Collection collaborate on a locally-source menu – expect dishes like shrimp & grits, blackened lamb chop with collard greens, Southern fried chicken – paired with Fifty Leven wines. Cost is $155 per person.
Navigating Slavery: The Goose Creek Meeting and Hopkins Family Anti-racism Committee
On February 25 at 2 p.m. at the Goose Creek Meeting (18204 Lincoln Rd, Purcellville), the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library will co-sponsor a discussion on the prominent Hopkins family, Quakers from Maryland, who owned a large wholesale business in the area, interacted with enslavers in Loudoun and were represented by prominent Loudoun lawyer John Janney. Panelists include Gary Clemens, Clerk of the Circuit Court, and Sydney Van Morgan of the International Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University.
For other events, click here.
Support a Black-Owned Business
Aforementioned entrepreneurs Nelson “Mutt” Lassiter and Marie Medley-Howard paved the way for the many thriving Black-owned businesses we have in Loudoun today. Where to shop? For stylish athletic footwear, former Secret Service agent Dana Green’s pint-sized Restocked Sneakers in Leesburg sells the latest athletic pumps from Adidas, Nike and beyond. Over in Purcellville, Silas Redd’s upscale three-story thrift store Nostalgia Boutique sells vintage gems from around the country including a stunning line of 1950s frocks and decadent fur coats. Sticking with boutiques, Kayse Small’s Le Boudoir in Middleburg is the go-to one stop shop for elegant lingerie. Also in Middleburg, former Bergdorf Goodman buyer Wendy Osborn sells everything from fragrant cotton wick candles and jewelry to designer bags, dresses and trendy footwear at her stylish boutique Chloe’s of Middleburg.
Stay, Eat, Drink
While Black female billionaire Sheila Johnson’s Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg needs no introduction, did you know that Jacksonville native and Market Salamander Executive Chef Roderick “Pete” Smith was the youngest African American chef to ever run a Forbes Four-Star, AAA Four-Diamond restaurant in Florida? Now showcasing his talents in Loudoun, don’t miss his signature bread pudding, hot sauce and gourmet sandwiches at the downtown Middleburg favorite. Have a sweet tooth? Jamaican born master baker Godfrey McKenzie and his wife Tatiana oversee the quirkily named Dolce & Ciabatta Bakery on Leesburg’s Catoctin Circle. Pick up everything from fresh baguettes and croissants to decadent sponge cakes at the sweet-smelling emporium. As for wine fans, if you want to visit some of Loudoun’s 50-plus wineries, book a trip with Black entrepreneur Renee Ventrice’s Cork & Keg Tours – bespoke guided wine tours in a luxury Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Cork & Keg was listed as one of the Ten Best Wine Tour Companies in the US in the 2020 USA Today Readers’ Choice Awards. After visiting Loudoun, check out the website for Loudoun’s first Black-owned wine label Fifty Leven, launched by Kindra Dionne, and purchase a bottle-or two- to share with friends.