Famous for its picturesque streets, handsome architecture and stylish bars and restaurants, county seat Leesburg is also a treasure trove of African American history easily accessible to the visitor. The Thomas Balch Library, built in 1922 and now a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site, documents the history and genealogy of the county, including the African American experience. It has a reading room named for Howard Clark, co-founder of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. In the heart of town is Loudoun County Courthouse, another Railroad Network to Freedom site.
In 1933, Charles Hamilton Houston became the first African American attorney to argue a major case in a Southern courtroom here, earning him the sobriquet “The man who killed Jim Crow.” A short walk away a plaque at Liberty Street marks the spot of the Old Stone Church where black and white congregants prayed in the years before the Civil War. After the war, the black congregants organized the still-standing Mount Zion Methodist Church at North and Church, overseen by Reverend William L. Robey.
The Leesburg branch of the Freedmen’s Bureau, established during Reconstruction to provide legal rights and assistance for formerly enslaved blacks and poor whites, was at 209 South King Street. In 1941 the Douglass School at Catoctin Circle and East Market became the first African American high school in Loudoun. Still operating as a school and community center today, it has a storied and loyal alumni association. Visit Leesburg.gov to download the Leesburg African American History walking tour app to learn more.