Hundreds of people donned in t-shirts reading “e pluribus unum,” the motto on the US State Seal meaning, “out of many, one,” worked and mingled on the grounds of the historic Ashburn Colored School. The racist and vulgar graffiti that could be seen on the school the past week was now gone, under a fresh coat of paint.
“We’ve frankly been overwhelmed by the pace and scale of volunteer efforts here,” Deep Sran, founder of Loudoun School for the Gifted said. “It hasn’t looked like this probably in 40 years. It’s incredible”
Loudoun School for the Gifted has been restoring the Ashburn Colored School to turn the site into a museum and eventually construct a new building for the Loudoun School adjacent to the historic property. While the graffiti was disheartening to see, the community response in volunteer efforts and donations has accelerated the project by years, Sran said.
Community members gathered for a community restoration event at the site on Oct. 9. The day started with an interfaith service, followed by volunteers working to paint the building. Children also worked on an archaeological dig, looking for artifacts where the old outhouse stood.
Among volunteers were members of the Loudoun alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., a historically Black sorority.
“For me, (coming out) was two-fold. This is the bread of what we do. We are a public service organization. Our very first service was going in the women’s suffrage march. So anytime we see any inequities, this is what Delta stands for. So this is a national platform for us,” chapter vice president Charlotte Lofton said. “As a mother of a son that attends school here in Loudoun County, it sickened me when I saw the swastika and the sheer hate that was being promoted, but it warms my heart to see how many people have come out today from all races, all ethnicities, all ages, to show support and solidarity.”
Other members of historically Black Greek organizations, such as Alpha Phi Alpha, Omega Psi Phi and Phi Beta Sigma, also attended the community restoration event, as well as members from community and historical organizations like Operation Uplift and the Black History Committee.
An art project on the site allowed for volunteers to put their handprints on large drawings of the school. Community members could choose from different skin-colored paints. By the end of the event, the signs were covered in different colored handprints.
“Today, this is Loudoun. All cultures, all races, all nationalities, all ages. We don’t care political parties. We just don’t’ care. We came to put this back together and to do even more,” Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said, “This is what a county looks like. This is when a county comes back together. I said it all this week, we don’t really know why this happened, but the truth is it doesn’t really matter why this happened because light will always drive out dark and love will always drive out hate.”
Performers sang on a stage while volunteers worked and mingled. At noon, the keynote speaker, Holocaust survivor Susan Warsinger, addressed the crowd and spoke on her experience living through prejudice and hate.
“Perhaps if so many people had not been bystanders, onlookers or collaborators, the Nazis could never have accomplished what they set out to do. I’m upset that hatred and discrimination is here in the United States, especially on this historic schoolhouse, Warsinger said. “We need to remember the dark chapters of our history and we need to learn from them. We cannot undo the past.”
“Besides remembering, we have to take action to confront hate. When we see injustice taking place, we have to do something about it. We have to be sensitive to each other and we have to take care of each other. We need to stand together against racism and intolerance,” she said.
Within the next four to six weeks, some of the more degraded wood will be replaced followed by another coat of paint. Sran hopes the exterior will be completely done by Thanksgiving. After that, they will work on the inside.
“We have conservation historians looking at the inside so that we can begin that work, and the goal is by end of spring to have the interior done as well,” Sran said. “That’s pretty optimistic, but really, open it up for a public unveiling to really open it up and let the public see it as Ms. (Yvonne) Neal remembers it. So we’re taking her input to learn what this building needs to look like.”
Loudoun School for the Gifted was also able to get power out to the site, Sran said. The schoolhouse will now have lights out on the property at night to hopefully deter any future vandalism.