By Cheyonne Winters
Mapping Black Entrepreneurship in Loudoun County
Many scholars have documented Antebellum slave societies, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow as violent times for generations of Black people. But for Black people, freedom was not accompanied by structural reparations that might have provided formerly enslaved people with even basic resources to begin life free. However, despite the grave deficits, African Americans throughout the former slave states, re-established their families, built churches, founded schools, purchased land, and created numerous businesses. Within only a few decades following the Civil War, Black entrepreneurship and Black autonomy produced economic opportunities for formerly enslaved men and women and their descendants. In Loudoun County Virginia, Black individuals, like those in other jurisdictions, faced down oppressive systems. and self-sufficiency all while operating through an oppressive system designed against them. The excerpt below exemplifies how Black people should be equally acknowlegded, treated fairly, and proclaimed as individuals that can, too, be progressive and equal to that of whites.
“We the undersigned colored citizens of said County would respectfully call your Honor’s attention to the following facts, namely, that twenty years have elapsed since the bondage of our people in the South was removed: Then we were a people comparatively without property, without the means of acquiring it and business capacity to manage it. Then we were uneducated but few of us could read or write. Time has changed and improved our condition. Under the guarantees of the National and State Constitutions, and laws made in execution thereof our people have made advances: our children are being educated, and knowledge is supplanting ignorance, and the little homes [we own] show we are acquiring property. Thus we have become identified with the material interests of our State, we have homes to defend, lives and liberty to protect, children educated and to be educated, and in all that pertains to the order, peace and prosperity of society, we have a common interest in the general welfare.”
(Loudoun County Courthouse Path to Freedom Justice and Racial Equality, 2019)
The petition was constructed by a group of African American citizens from Loudoun County who demanded change and equality despite the advancing of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The 13th Amendment, however, did end slavery but it did not protect African Americans from acts of discrimination and prejudices brought forth by processes of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism. There was limited political and social power awarded to the citizens of Loudoun County.
Nevertheless, Loudoun County citizens took full advantage of the Reconstruction period as African Americans began to establish businesses of their own, purchasing land, and serving as spaces of empowerment to encourage and teach other African Americans about the importance of Black ownership. These businesses were spaces where Black people eventually gathered to have a peace of mind, a sense of self, and enjoy open discussions about politics without being under the watchful eye. It was a place of authenticity and freedom of expression.
Loudoun County is the wealthiest and fastest growing county in the United States. It also holds rich and nurturing stories of its Black descendants who have established the foundation of what Loudoun County now represents. With the emergence of so many businesses, it is important to educate citizens of Loudoun’s history as they may lack the history of the grounds in which their businesses stand on. It is important to unsilence history as we uncover the unknown and prevent Black history falling into one-sided historicity (Trouillot, 2015).
This project was executed to provide individuals with both a visual and analytical mapping of Black agency, Black spaces, and the evolution of Black businesses in Loudoun County from 1865 to the mid-twentieth century. Within this project, the following questions will illuminate the “truer” side of Loudoun’s history and how it came to be:
- Historical origins of black entrepreneurship in Loudoun County?
- How did Black entrepreneurs navigate Jim Crow Loudoun?
- Where were these businesses located? What kinds of businesses did they get into?