‘Tell the story, but tell it all.’

Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, takes notes as Pastor Michelle Thomas talks about hopes for the Loudoun Freedom Center, to depict the lives of slaves in the county.

Scott York, chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, takes notes as Thomas speaks about the desecration of a slave cemetery in Lansdowne. Charles King, at left, and two others are running to defeat York’s reelection.

The Rev. Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministry International, speaks how a slave cemetery was desecrated in Lansdowne.

The Rev. Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International, said she hopes formation of the proposed Loudoun Freedom Center will honor the lost lives of 42 slaves on the grounds of the former Coton  Plantaion, remember their names, and research their genealogy.

The crowd gathered in front of the Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg on July 18 listened attentively to speakers at a rally sponsored by the Loudoun NAACP.

A crowd gathered on the Loudoun County courthouse lawn on July 18 for a rally sponsored by the Loudoun NAACP. Early morning rain could have discouraged attendance. Estimates of crowd size ranged from 50 to 100 at the courthouse, with 10 or fewer gathered around a statue of a confederate soldier.

The Leesburg Town Council could vote as soon as Tuesday, July 28, whether to approve Loudoun County’s request to demolish four historic buildings on Edwards Ferry Road to clear the site for a huge new courts complex.

Loudoun County officials have threatened to move their government offices to Ashburn if the council turns down an appeal filed after Leesburg’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) denied the county’s demolition request in May.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd, also a candidate for the town’s seat on the Loudoun Board of Supervisors, and one other council member said they will vote to raze the buildings to keep the government and its business downtown. Amid charges that county officials are bullying them into a “yes” vote, other council members on July 14 delayed a vote, saying they need more information.

County officials threatened to move government offices to Sycolin Road outside downtown Leesburg or to undeveloped property next to Metro’s planned Ashburn station, the last stop on the Silver Line. After several delays, the line’s arrival has been delayed to 2019. The Leesburg council could wait until late August for a final vote.

Loudoun County is struggling for its racial dignity after the recent disclosure that 42 slave graves in Lansdowne were destroyed in the late 1990s to build amenities for a community center, designed in the shape of a dairy barn, on the site of the old Coton plantation. Slaves powered Loudoun’s agrarian economy before the Civil War. Another slave burial ground, at the former Belmont plantation on the opposide side of Route 7 from Lansdowne, is unmarked but mostly intact, according to Loudoun historians.

On July 18, a small, mostly white crowd on the Loudoun Courthouse lawn protested the presence of a Civil War statue of a lone confederate soldier as five people displayed confederate flags at its base.  That display is silent about the history of slaves who were sold, and allegedly sometimes lynched, on the courthouse grounds in the 18th Century. The Loudoun NAACP has asked  the courthouse display be expanded to honor slaves and the Union soldiers who tried to free them.

Intermingled in the crowd were hopeful candidates for local office including Umstaddt, Board Chairman Scott York and two of his three challengers, Democrat Phyllis Randall and Republican Charlie King. Also present: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring; Mike Turner, a Democrat running for Ashburn supervisor; Tom Marshall, running for Leesburg’s seat on the Loudoun School Board against incumbent Bill Fox;  incumbent Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman; and Leesburg town council members Kelly Burk and Marty Martinez.

Adding irony to Thomas’s comments about the disappearance of a slave cemetery in Lansdowne was the Leesburg council’s impending decision whether to raze historic buildings to build a new courthouse. A historic Episcopal cemetery that fronts on Church Street, adjacent to the proposed new courthouse, will remain intact.

A white cemetery on Church Street north of the proposed courthouse stays; four small historic buildings could be demolished to build a new courthouse.

A white cemetery on Church Street north of the proposed courthouse stays; four small historic buildings could be demolished to build a new courthouse.

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“I still think this is hilarious though, because you know, they did lose. They actually lost.”

Roland Martin, formerly a broadcast journalist for CNN, interviews several of the demonstrators holding Confederate flags on July 18.

Roland Martin, a broadcast journalist, interviews three of five demonstrators with Confederate flags on July 18.

You can videotape me, Dude. I’m already on television. So I’m good. I’m on television every day. Feel free to videotape me, but I’m already there. You can Google me. Want a name too?
— Roland Martin

Former CNN journalist Roland Martin, confederate sympathizers, and former sheriff candidate Ron Speakman argued the history of secession in front of a statue of a confederate soldier on the courthouse lawn in Leesburg on July 18.


Video by Anna Harris, Loudoun Times-Mirror.

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Still here.

Yankees retreat. Again.

Yankees turned back. Again.


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Freeing the stories of Loudoun slaves

As she described her dreams for the Loudoun Freedom Center, Pastor Michelle was surrounded by the names of slaves buried at Belmont Plantation.

As she described her dreams for the Loudoun Freedom Center, Pastor Michelle Thomas was surrounded by the names of slaves buried at Belmont Plantation.

A press conference to announce formation of the Loudoun Freedom Center was planned long before nine people were murdered June 17 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., an historic church that rose from resistance to slavery.

Michelle Thomas, pastor of Holy and Whole Life Changing Ministries International in Lansdowne, said she was researching land where her church can build a sanctuary when she discovered nearby an unmarked cemetery with the remains of slaves from the former Belmont Plantation. Thomas then searched for a similar cemetery that historians say existed at the Coton Plantaion, now Lansdowne on the Potomac, where 2,155 contemporary homes were built in the early 21st century. But that cemetery apparently was lost to development of the Potomac Club and its associated amenities, such as a toddler wading pool.

At a prayer vigil remembering the victims in the Charleston shooting, Thomas asked church members to reach out to at least nine people unlike themselves in race, creed, or religion, to honor the nine people who died at the hands of an allegedly racially motivated shooter at Mother Emmanuel Church, as it is familiarly known.

June 19, 2015

(Emancipation Day)

For Immediate Release

Science and Forensic Evidence Will Set Their Stories Free

LANSDOWNE, VA: On Emancipation Day, known as “Juneteenth,” 2015, Pastor Michelle C. Thomas announced formation of the Loudoun Freedom Center, a non-profit organization where science and history will meet to tell the story of a generation for generations to come. The Center will use science and technology to explore the rich cultural history of Loudoun County and honor the lives of African American slaves on well–known plantations who built the county.

“Loudoun is a diverse community – below and above the ground,” Pastor Thomas said.

Earlier this year, while researching land where her church plans to build a new sanctuary, Pastor Thomas rediscovered the final resting place of more than 40 slaves who had lived, worked and died on the former Belmont Plantation in Ashburn. Armed with this new evidence of truth unearthed, Pastor Thomas became even more determined to trace the silent history of the path from slavery to freedom in Loudoun. She scoured archival records such as tax records, deeds, wills, judgments, and even property repossessions to discover the names of 42 slaves who had lived and worked on the former Coton plantation, now known as Lansdowne On the Potomac.

To honor the legacy of these unsung American heroes, Pastor Thomas created The Loudoun Freedom Center, which will foster these important projects:

1. Visitor Center: To include an interactive map that tells the story of historic African American communities of Loudoun County.

2. Loudoun African Burial Grounds: Chronicle the stories that identify and honor the remains of slaves buried throughout Loudon County.

3. Belmont African Burial Ground: Preserve, protect, and restore the sacred burial ground located on the former Belmont Plantation.

4. Coton (Lansdowne) African Burial Ground: Identify, preserve, and protect the sacred burial ground located on the former Coton Plantation.

5. I Am Loudoun Genome Project will:

a. Use consumer genetics to offer personal genealogical studies to recover ancestral data.
b. Identify familial health risks from smallpox to Lyme disease.
c. Instruct and encourage all Loudoun residents to use science to discover who they are related to.

6. Virtual DNA Extraction Laboratory: Perform check swabs and extract DNA from human cells, the link to individual ancestral histories.

7. Research Library & Genealogy: The Research Library & Genealogy Hub will be a world-class facility developed in partnership with Virginia schools and universities. It will house artifacts and documents that support restorative work taking place through the Freedom Center.

8. Loudoun Freedom Chapel: A place to reflect and meditate.

The purpose of the Loudoun Freedom Center is to:

• Raise public awareness of the significance of rediscovering, preserving, and restoring endangered African American history while honoring the lives and sacrifices of unsung American heroes;

• Employ a STEM based approach to encourage deeper and broader study of African American history while engaging schools of all kinds: public, private, religious, and STEM based. Employ sciences such as anthropology, archaeology, and biology. Through STEM interest and research, close the achievement gap within the very community that was once disenfranchised;

• Build a bridge to unite the community through reconciliation fostered by the collaborative efforts of this project. The Loudoun Freedom Center will grow into the cultural epicenter of African American history in Loudoun County and across Northern Virginia.

The Loudoun Freedom Center seeks to engage the whole community to document, interpret, and free the stories of enslaved African American communities. We need your gifts of time and talent and the wealth of your ideas to build a better Loudoun. Please join us!

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So it is late in the game with three men on and the perennial team dynasty up to bat.

The heart of the batting order, Scott York, Matt Latourneau, Ralph Buona, and Shawn Williams (perhaps running as an independent to succeed himself) need one more vote to control the Loudoun Board of Supervisors four more years. Five days remain to register to run as an independent.

Throw a changeup!

Edgar Hatrick should run for one term as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors! He is the only person whose fan base is broader and deeper than York’s. He can run a meeting. He can negotiate with bullies. He will fully fund public schools, and that is the clearly articulated want of the majority of taxpaying voters in Loudoun.

They care more about good schools than they care about party affiliation, which means little in Loudoun. Republicans choke off competition at the primary level, and local Democrats have no mechanism for preparing experienced candidates.

In surveys, voters repeatedly say they are willing to pay higher taxes to fund better schools and higher teacher salaries.

What they do not want is more residential development with no plan for funding infrastructure to support it.

Hatrick for chairman!

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Bait and Switched, Part II

On May 27, the Loudoun Times Mirror named Scott York its Citizen of the Year. On June 2, he announced his candidacy for a fifth term as chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors. Loudoun Times Mirror photo

On May 27, the Loudoun Times Mirror named Scott York its Citizen of the Year. On June 2, he announced his candidacy for a fifth term as chairman of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors.
(Loudoun Times Mirror photo)

“Trust is at the heart of it. Citizen of the Year remains an important idea about community service. It shouldn’t be tarnished by disingenuous behavior.”

           Loudoun Times Mirror editorial, June 3, 2015

The Loudoun Times Mirror is rightfully and righteously indignant that Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman waited almost a week after being named LTM Citizen of the Year before announcing he had looked over the field of candidates who filed to succeed him and found them hopelessly wanting in experience.

So Scott York announced on June 2 that he is running for his fifth term as chairman and sixth on the Board of Supervisors. The next day, the Times Mirror published an editorial under the whiney headline: Loudoun Chairman Scott York betrays our trust. It pouted that:

There was as an authoritative portrait of the chairman as Citizen of the Year on the front page of last week’s Times-Mirror. There is a photo spread of the event, hosted by the chamber, on Page A2 today.

Unpublished is any list of criteria by which this honor is annually bestowed, who makes the selection, and how that process isolated York as the most sterling example of local citizenship for the past year.

Newspapers in most small towns are the 500 pound gorilla that no one pokes for fear of printed repercussions. One local pol says he scrupulously avoids arguments with people who buy their ink by  the barrel for that reason.

Thus, as LTM readers and York administration taxpayers, we stand at the brink of  an information void that the LTM itself seems reticent to fill:

Where are its stories about Scott York’s trip to Germany, accompanied by Loudoun Hounds/VIP Sports executive Bob Farren, in the months before the Supervisors speedily approved a zoning change to accommodate Farren’s baseball stadium on Route 7?

Where was its investigation behind the sale of land to Raging Wire without putting it on the open market?

Where are the stories about government that the LTM passed by during the months it was seeking zoning approval for its Courthouse Square project in downtown Leesburg?

Where is the newspaper’s disclosure about how much Loudoun County spends on legal advertisements in the LTM, or is that not considered a conflict of interest with its story selection in the world of journalism?

Where is the full disclosure and transparency behind the authoritative portrait at the top of the page?

Trust is at the heart of it.

For real.

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Bait and Switched

Confused about the location of Riverside High School? That might be because it was not built on a parcel of land purchased by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors from the National Conference Center in 2011. This is the draft design initially presented to the public on the pretext that a high school would be built on the 45 acre parcel that the supervisors bought from the NCC for $20 million, a price that exceeded by $6.5 million the value assessed by the county. The money difference was termed damages to replace rarely used surface parking spaces at the NCC with a parking deck to accommodate visitors to a large ballroom and, it was hoped, bring revenue to the NCC, which had fallen behind on payments on the $50 million loan that had financed the ballroom construction.

But in 2012, with no public process, the high school site plan was flipped. The high school building took over Lansdowne Sports Park, free public fields used by baseball, soccer, and football leagues for children that had been proffered by the developer of Lansdowne, Hobie Mitchel. The proffered land that had comprised the sports fields was lost to permanent use by Loudoun Public Schools, and some $271,000 raised by volunteers to coax Bermuda grass to grow on them was lost. An irrigation system funded by volunteers was destroyed. The fields have not been replaced.

As originally proposed, the site of HS 8, now Riverside High School, was shown on 45 acres of land owned by the National Conference Center (Oxford Communities) property to be purchased by  the Loudoun Board of Supervisors for $20. million

As originally proposed, the site of HS 8, now Riverside High School, was shown on 45 acres of land owned by the National Conference Center (Oxford Communities), to be purchased by the Loudoun Board of Supervisors for $20 million

On June 28, 2011, three months after an appraisal had increased its value by $6.5 million and just before the 45 acre parcel went under contract to Loudoun County for $20 million, the Loudoun Board of Equalization met in a meeting closed to the public and reduced the assessed value of the land back to its original value of about $12 million.

In March, 2014,  the rest of the National Conference Center was sold for $37 million, the approximate value of an outstanding note for $5o million that had funded construction of the ballroom now served by the NCC’s new parking deck.

In  2012, his first term as a Virginia delegate, Randy Minchew (R/10th) introduced a bill to make it easier to abandon a proffer:


Minchew manages the Loudoun office of Walsh, Colucci, a large land use firm based in Arlington.

The new high school is now sited on the abandoned location of the Lansdowne Sports Park.

The new high school is now sited on the abandoned location of the Lansdowne Sports Park.

This is how the site wound up. The high school design was rotated and moved off the former NCC property. It is under construction on the formerly proffered land next to Belmont Ridge Middle School. The 45 acres purchased from the NCC as a high school site will instead be used for the high school’s football and baseball fields.

Confused? Not surprising. The decision to flip the site of the school with the site of its dedicated ball fields was not announced to residents of the affected neighborhoods until after it was already made.

Posted in All, Ashburn Supervisor Ralph Buona, BOS Chairman Scott York, Lansdowne Sports Park, Loudoun Board of Equalization, Riverside High School, Virginia Ethics Commission | Tagged | Leave a comment