A Community Celebration of Equal Education

Community leaders gathered on Saturday, November 10th, at Douglass School in Leesburg to celebrate the educational struggles of the past and relate them to the present and future.


“Dirt Don’t Burn: A Community Celebration for Equal Education” featured the work of the Edwin Washington Project. This non-profit group has dedicated itself to preserving the early records of Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS), especially those related to African Americans.


“It has been a journey for Loudoun County Public Schools from the 1860s to the 1960s to the present day,” said Douglass Assistant Principal Sherri Simmons, who co-hosted the event. “We continue to try to find equal ground and equitable ways to make sure our children are well-educated and ready to step into their roles as educated citizens. In this regard, we have to learn from our history.”


“This work matters,” said LCPS Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams. “The Edwin Washington Project preserves documentation of the perseverance and courage that both inspires and informs us.”


Williams said it is important for people to understand the struggle of African Americans to obtain an equitable education in Loudoun County; a struggle that went on long after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954. “I appreciate the Project documenting the Herculean efforts of families who believed that education was the path to empowerment for their children…They would not stop. They would not be deterred…Education is power…and these families would not give up, no matter what the odds.”


Williams also reflected on the Edwin Washington’s potential effect on the future. “Reflecting openly and honestly on the past can lead us all to better actions today and in the future.”


Larry Roeder, the founder of the Edwin Washington Project, talked about its future; stressing that the organization needs volunteers to continue its work. Those wanting to volunteer can visit www.edwinwashingtonproject.org.


Roeder related how he and his team chronicled and preserved thousands of records that were discovered several years ago at the former Training Center for African-American students on Union Street in Leesburg.


“What we do is take each piece of paper and look at it and determine what it says…This is your history…You deserve to know that the records of your ancestors are being protected. These records are the blueprints of our school buildings; photographs of teachers and students.”


The records are being scanned digitally to preserve them beyond their present, fragile state. But Roeder said the Edwin Washington Project wants to go beyond simple preservation.


“What’s next? We have these boxes and boxes of records and have gone through them piece-by-piece…What we want to do is seriously study (these documents), explain (these documents)…This is a cause. It’s not just a job, it’s a cause.”


Students from Banneker Elementary opened the program with a musical presentation. Among the songs they performed were “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “We Shall Overcome.”


Local elected officials attending the seminar were Del. John Bell (87th District), Del. Jennifer Boysko (86th District), Del. David Reid (32nd District), Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk and Leesburg Supervisor Kristen Umstattd. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall appeared via a videotaped message.