Loudoun County’s resistance to change was one of quiet stubbornness, compared with the Deep South.
While segregation in states like Mississippi and Alabama fueled headline-grabbing sit-ins, marches and, at its worst, violent riots, leaders in the local black and white communities came together to peacefully navigate the changing tide.
In 1961, B. Powell Harrison and John W. Tolbert, Jr. organized a meeting to stop busloads of demonstrators who were headed to Leesburg from Washington, DC, to hold sit-ins at the restaurants, and later led other community-wide discussions on how to integrate.
“It really was a demonstration of both communities saying this is not what we want for Loudoun County,” recalled Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick, who was a student at the all-white Loudoun County High School at the time. “They agreed, this is not who we are. There’s got to be a way that we can reach out to one another.”
The final piece in our three-part series, looking at the 125-year heritage of African Americans in Loudoun’s public schools—their fight to first establish their own schools and later to attend school alongside the rest of the county’s children.
By that time, restaurants in Leesburg and Middleburg were integrated through the efforts of NAACP Loudoun President William McKinley Jackson and some of the community’s white leaders. That partnership later led the entire county through integration, including its public schools, although not at a hurried pace.
In the 1960s, friendships continued to be stronger than the unseen lines drawn in the divided school system. Black and white children grew up together, playing on weekends and after school.
Darryl Conrad Smith, Jr., now Purcellville’s chief of police, recalls playing touch football games and pickup basketball games with his white friends every chance he got.
“We helped each other out so we could have full teams,” Smith, 62, said. “There were never any issues. It was just a lot of fun.”
David Chamberlin, 68, said he didn’t think much about hanging out with his black neighbors. “We played together and we were all friends—then they went to different schools from us,” he said. “That’s the way things were.”
Hatrick, who grew up in Ashburn, remembers segregation felt “kind of strange because in the community, outside of school, you had friends who were black.”
But not everyone was eager to blend the two communities.
As a senior at Loudoun County High School in 1963, Hatrick, 67, remembers some of his classmates thought integration was long overdue, while others were staunch segregationists. “My classmates’ views of [segregation] represented the whole range of views that their parents represented,” he said.
Although Loudoun avoided the riots and even sit-ins of the 1960s, there were tensions between the races. One of the most repeated stories of the dissension is when, in 1965, Leesburg firemen had the public pool filled in with concrete and rock rather than allow black kids to swim in it.
Hatrick, who lived near the pool along Loudoun Street in downtown, remembers it shocked most everyone. “I mean, we were very conscious of that happening,” he said.
Integration was introduced “gradually” in Loudoun’s public schools, Chamberlin recalls, with just a handful of black students at first allowed to learn alongside white students. In 1963, 10 black students—the brightest of those who applied for a waiver—attended the county’s new Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville, according to Thomas Balch Library records. The next year, one black girl was approved to attend Loudoun County High School.
By the mid-1960s, Loudoun was one of the few school systems that still operated all-black schools, and the all-black Douglass High School began running out of teams to play. “I remember in football we had to play some schools twice because there weren’t very many left,” Smith said.
Soon, athletics became the focus of integration. In 1967, talented basketball or football players were plucked from Douglass High School to attend Loudoun Valley or Loudoun County.
Charles “Chick” Bushrod, now 60 years old, was too scrawny to be recruited for Loudoun County High School’s basketball team, he recalled, but some of his black friends, including Smith, were welcomed.
“It was one of these things that ‘we’ll take the athletes, but not anyone else,’” Bushrod said. He remembers riding the bus from Sterling with Smith, but getting off at different stops. “They’d drop most of us off at Douglass and then bring [Smith] to Loudoun County High School. It was the sort of thing that had you wonder, why are we all separated?”
That same year, a federal court ordered Loudoun school officials to integrate its schools “on both pupil and staff levels no later than the 1968-69 school year,” according to historical records.
The next year, all the county’s students finally attended school together. Douglass High School was closed, and Frederick Douglass Elementary School re-opened as an integrated school.
“Most of us thought it was way beyond due,” Chamberlain said.
Smith considered his first few days at Loudoun County, “a new adventure.” He added, “I never had any problems.”
Most who were a part of the school district then attest that the transition was relatively smooth, but not completely seamless. The county’s growing pains included the occasional name-calling among students, some black students noticed they received less attention from teachers, and school dances were put on hold, “to get past the shock or whatever it was,” Hatrick said.
But St. James’ Episcopal Church in downtown Leesburg offered to host the dances in its gathering hall.
When Hatrick returned to Loudoun County High School as an English teacher in 1968, he remembers talking with Douglass High School teachers who were concerned “white teachers wouldn’t understand everything the black students needed to have and vice-versa,” he said. “There had to be a lot of courageous conversations.”
Bushrod remembers he and his black classmates weren’t encouraged to dream big of their lives after graduation. As a senior at Broad Run High School in 1969, a guidance counselor told him he was more cut out for the military than college, even though he was ranked in the top third of his graduating class.
“To think that we weren’t considered to be smart enough or eligible for college,” Bushrod said, almost still in disbelief 45 years later.
He went to college anyway; earned a degree in education and returned to teach in Leesburg because, “Home is always home. And you want to come home if at all possible to improve things.”
As a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School and a basketball coach, Bushrod says he seizes every chance to tell his young students about Loudoun County’s history that once was divided along racial lines.
“I want them to know that there are a lot of people still alive who experienced segregation—when black kids weren’t given the opportunities that the other kids were given,” he said. “I’m proof that you can make it.”
In the past decade, Loudoun has become one of Virginia’s most racially diverse counties, with the most recent U.S. Census reporting that close to 50 percent of the population is made up of Hispanic, Indian, Asian or black residents. The student body at Park View High School in Sterling alone represents 80 different countries.
But Hatrick, who’s led the school district as superintendent since 1991, said that doesn’t mean prejudice is a closed chapter in the county’s history.
“Like all history, I think it’s important for our kids today to know what happened so that we don’t fall into the trap of repeating those errors—to understand how easy it is to develop a mindset of them and us, whoever the ‘them’ happens to be at the time,” he said. “I lived through the whole period when it was a really big deal the first time there was a black girl on the homecoming court. Now, it’s not a big deal and it’s wonderful.”
A Look Into Loudoun’s Past
1959: Without giving public notice, the School Board allows black children to enter a white school if their parents come to the board offices and get a blue consent slip. No one can recall a Negro child going to a white school before 1963.
By 1960: The School Board requires all children to present blue slips indicating whether they’d prefer to attend a “black” or a “white” school.
1961: Restaurants in Leesburg and Middleburg are integrated through the efforts of NAACP Loudoun President William McKinley Jackson and white leaders in the community.
April 29, 1961: At B. Powell Harrison’s suggestion, a meeting between leaders of the races forestalls a Washington NAACP and CORE demonstration in Leesburg. Some of the town’s drug store lunch counters serve blacks.
1962: A dozen black students request the state to admit them to the county’s whites-only high schools; four are admitted. That same year eight black students sue Loudoun for its segregated schools. A federal court orders the county to comply with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools.
September 1963: Father Albert Pereira, a Roman Catholic priest in Leesburg and an outspoken opponent of segregation, and Lincoln-area ladies planned the integration of the new Loudoun Valley High School. Three integrate that school.
September 1964: One black girl enters Loudoun County High School.
Summer 1965: Black residents file suit to swim in the Leesburg public pool. The firemen have the pool filled with rock and concrete, and it never opens again.
August 1967: A federal court order finds school officials “still operating on a dual system,” and orders “all Loudoun schools be integrated on both pupil and staff levels no later than the 1968-69 school year.”
September 1967: The white high schools begin recruiting Douglass’ black athletes. The 1968-1969 Loudoun County High basketball team features 12 blacks and 3 whites.
1968: School Board integrates Loudoun’s public schools; closes Douglass High School.
SOURCE: Thomas Balch Library and Journey Through Time: Events Affecting African Americans In Loudoun County, Virginia