Origin of Black Entrepreneurship in Loudoun County
Post-emancipation was the peak of Black entrepreneurship in Loudoun County. Although many African Americans and freed slaves barely had materials or possessions to start their new life, but what mattered most was the celebration of freedom. As a collective, African Americans in Loudoun focused on what they had or as they called it, “making a way out of no way”. They relied on their personal, communal, and spiritual resources to overcome economic hardship. Whether that was starting a new business, buying land to establish schools, providing jobs within jobs for those who may lack skill, or provide an ounce of agency, African Americans were able to take control, landscape Loudoun County, and build a historic homeground of homes, churches, schools, lodges, and settlements that still stand today.
In the midst of becoming free people, African Americans wanted to feel more liberated by either working for a single employer or working as a free agent. While many jobs were unavailable at the time, Black men dominated the industries of blacksmithing, carpentry, gardening, or jockeys a.k.a stablemen as horses became important lines of businesses that were operated by Black men. As for Black women, they dominated laundering, sewing, and midwife services. However, for some, working in Loudoun County was challenging because workers were paid twice as less than working jobs in Arlington, Falls Church, or Washington, D.C.
Despite the lack of financial resources, African Americans of Loudoun County were able to acquire land just after ten or twenty years after being emancipated. Some freed people even rented property and land from previous owners in order to purchase the land after they were able acquire proper funding. Hence, the Purcellville school that was built in 1947 and it still stands today as the George Washington Carver School of Loudoun County. In 1914, the school grounds were purchased by a group of men and women (known as the Willing Workers Club) that grew frustrated with their children walking two miles a day, back and forth to school. They were able to raise the money, bought the land, and established a two-room elementary schoolhouse that opened in 1920. In 1947, the school expanded to an eight-room schoolhouse that housed 250 students and 8 teachers. However, the school was closed in 1968 because of integration and the Loudoun school board was persuaded into turning the building into a storage facility as white parents did not want to send their children into an all-Black neighborhood.
The George Washington Carver school is now named the Carver Senior Center. Students of the Carver
School were then distributed to other integrated schools such as Douglas High and other schools
located in Hamilton, Hillsboro, and Hughesville. The Carver School was documented as one of the
most important historic sites of Loudoun County as Purceville was a place where African Americans
were once prosperous. Although the community in Purcellville was small, it had one of the greatest
impacts on Loudoun history for it was the grounds where the celebration of the Emancipation occurred
and it was the beginning of Black sufficiency and resistance.
According to the U.S. census, Purceville’s Black population now stands at seven percent
compared to twenty percent in 1940. Most of the original homes and buildings built by the older Black
community of Purceville were sold or bought by white home and land owners. Thus, executing the
rich Black history embedded in the ground of Purcellville because there is a lack of information about
the background of these buildings and land areas. According to Katherine McKittrick, “Black lives are
necessarily geographic, but also struggle with discourses that erase and despatialize their sense of
place” (McKittrick, pg. xiii).
The history of Black subjects are historic and geographic stories of displacements, segregation and integration, migrations and settlements (McKittrick, pg. xiv). Loudoun County is a perfect example of being both a place of domination and a place of resistance where Black people were once provided endless opportunity of autonomy and free agency, but later was dominated by whites. The land began to mature and evolve as whites migrated into predominantly Black neighborhoods that were once divided by “color lines”. Everyone is capable of admiring the exteriority of things, but what’s on the interior matters the most.
Who built this building? Who lived here? Who and what are we standing on? Who’s hard work and resilience gave us the town we know today as Purceville?