Thompson of NAACP Believes Vandalism May Have Broader Significance.
Representatives of the Loudoun School for the Gifted had been working to renovate the Ashburn Colored School — a dilapidated one-room school house that was built two centuries ago to serve African American students in northern Virginia — since 2014. Recently, shutters were removed from the building and new windows were installed.
Early Saturday morning, Oct. 1, the renovation was met with an ugly, unwelcome addition — racist and vulgar graffiti.
Swastikas, “white power”, and drawings are spray painted all over the building now, and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) is investigating.
“We had our crime scene folks out here yesterday afternoon,” Sheriff Mike Chapman said while walking the site with the Tribune yesterday. “They’re processing all of the evidence,” he added.
“We’re also working with the businesses across the street to see if they might have any video footage. We’re also working with our school resource officers because we believe this is likely the work of juveniles,” Chapman continued.
Deep Sran, founder of Loudoun School for the Gifted, and director of the restoration project, was on site too and spoke to a small crowd of community members. He said he hoped Loudoun would see this as a teachable moment, and hopes the community will get more involved with renovation project.
“I think at the end of the day, we will be better for it. Progress will happen but one of the biggest things we’re trying to figure out is how to get power out here so we have lighting,” Sran said to the crowd.
Many expressed an interest in getting involved. “Loudoun County is part of the south, there’s history all over and let’s uncover it and let’s talk about it and teach our kids so that racism and all that hateful stuff doesn’t continue,” said local resident Stacey Penka. “This is the way to change the next generation.”
Sran spoke of plans for an event Oct. 9 for volunteers all over the county to bring needed supplies and to paint over the graffiti. Community members in the crowd reacted positively to the idea.
“I think that’s where it needs to go. Police can handle the investigation, anybody who knows something can say something, but the idea of ‘let’s give this place the dignity it deserves to have, let’s give it the prominence it has in our history and not hide it’, that’s not a partisan thing. That’s a ‘anybody can do this’ thing. This place deserves it’s historical importance,” history teacher Eric Penka said.
Phillip Thompson, President of the Loudoun County chapter of the NAACP, thinks some of the symbols and messages may go beyond African Americans, to target other minority populations in the county.
While unfortunate that it was something “so in your face,” Thompson thinks good will come from this incident in that it will open the public’s eyes to this historical site and others like it in the county.
“I don’t think people realize how extensive African American life was in Loudoun. Before the Civil War, almost a third of the county was African American and a significant number of those were people who were free,” Thompson said. “Which as surprising in Virginia, because back in that period of time once you got freed in the state of Virginia, you had to leave. The only way you could stay was if somebody vouched for you,” he added. “So obviously you had enough white people in this county who vouched for the black people who were free,” he continued.
About five years ago, Loudoun County conducted a study of historic African American sites and found that many were being lost, often to construction projects. Thompson thinks its important to identify and protect these sites, and plans to enlist the help of others to accelerate this effort.
The Loudoun County Republican and Democratic Committees released a joint statement today condemning the graffiti, and offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the person or people responsible. This, in addition to the Loudoun Crime Solvers’ reward, brings the total reward amount to $2,000. Persons with information should call the LCSO at 703-777-1021.
The Loudoun School for the Gifted is also accepting donations to help fund the renovation project.