With its picturesque streets, handsome architecture and stylish bars and restaurants it’s easy to forget Leesburg’s complicated past. Slave auctions were once held on the grounds of the Loudoun County Courthouse in the center of downtown, and two freedmen were tried there for helping women and children escape slavery. In 2003 the National Park Service designated the Courthouse a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site in commemoration. The nearby Thomas Balch Library – another Underground Railroad site – contains a trove of research on Loudoun's African American history. One of its reading rooms is named for Howard Clark, co-founder, in 1890, of the Loudoun County Emancipation Association. A short walk east a plaque at Liberty St. 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 St. 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.

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