"This is fascinating to me," said Pauline Singletary, a member of the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library, at yesterday's preview of the tour. "It's great [the sites] are being preserved."
Weaving its way through the town, the Loudoun Museum's walking tour features 29 sites of interest, including the museum itself on Loudoun Street, once the African-American-owned "Do Drop Inn," where locals danced on Saturday nights, and the County Courthouse, where black attorney Charles Houston prevented the lynching of his black client in a landmark 1932 case.
Deborah Lee, a doctoral student at George Mason University, and several historians at the museum, spent the past year gathering local lore from archives in the Thomas Balch Library and from oral histories told by African Americans in the community. The stories reveal the rich threads that make up the fabric of Leesburg's African-American history.
One stop in particular illustrates the challenges faced by black residents. At the firehouse on Loudoun Street, visitors learn that this was once the location of Leesburg's only public pool. When several African Americans tried to integrate the pool after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the district court ruled in their favor. Rather than desegregate, the town government responded by filling it with concrete and rubble. Another public pool would not open for years, when one was built at the Ida Lee Recreation Center in 1990.
The Frederick Douglass School, another stop on the tour, was built as an all black school in 1941 after a fund-raising effort and petitioning by the County-Wide League and the NAACP. The groups purchased eight acres for $4,000 and sold them to the School Board for $1. The school operated until 1968 when schools were integrated.
Today, many graduates of the Douglass School still live in Leesburg, including town council member Mervin Jackson, a 1945 graduate. The graduates have an active alumni association that gathers for annual reunions and donates thousands of dollars to decescendants of the graduates.
The Loudoun Museum is currently raising funds to publish a guide to the tour in a portable booklet. For more information call the museum at 703?2D777?2D7427.