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Courthouse Grounds Research Project
Name of Loudoun Historic 1895 Courthouse to Honor Charles Hamilton Houston
During its February 7, 2023, meeting, the Board of Supervisors formalized the name of Loudoun County's courthouse complex in downtown Leesburg. Additionally, the Board approved the placement of a special moniker on the historic 1895 courthouse on the corner of King and Market streets to honor civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston. The move comes as the Loudoun County Courthouse Expansion project heads toward completion later this year.
The Board voted to name the multiple buildings that comprise the Loudoun courts and related offices the Loudoun County Courthouse Complex, while the historic courthouse will bear Houston’s name. In 2020, the Board directed staff to pursue National Historic Landmark designation for the historic courthouse, which is expected to happen this year.
The name selection is based on a recommendation from the Board-appointed Heritage Commission, which highlighted Houston’s work on the nationally significant 1933 trial of George Crawford.
Members of the public were encouraged to participate in the process for naming the historic Loudoun County Courthouse building in downtown Leesburg. The county’s Heritage Commission reviewed the historic significance of the courthouse grounds and developed recommendations, presented to the Board of Supervisors in 2020, on how the county can fully reflect the history of the grounds and Loudoun County.
The commission recommended the historic courthouse building be named in honor of Charles Hamilton Houston, who assembled and led an all-African American legal defense team for a murder trial there in 1933. The defense team, which included assistance from law student and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, challenged the all-white jury selection process, setting a historic legal precedent. Two years later, the Supreme Court ruled biased jury selection unconstitutional.
Comments and submissions were solicited from the public regarding the naming of the courthouse and were accepted through June 24, 2022.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors directed the county Heritage Commission in September 2017 to review the "full historic significance" of the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds and its statues and to make recommendations on additional memorials “to fully reflect the history of the grounds and Loudoun County.”
The commission appointed a subcommittee, which worked on the project over a 16-month period. The subcommittee consulted with experts and community members who provided insight and technical assistance, including the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Douglass Alumni, Carver Alumni, and the Loudoun Freedom Center. They also invited experts to conduct a peer review of the historical narrative.
The commission’s scope of work did not include recommendations about any current memorials or statues. Virginia state law, Va. Code § 15.2-1812. Memorials for war veterans, states that it is “unlawful for the authorities of the locality, or any other person or persons, to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials…”
On June 4, 2019, the commission presented its research and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
At this meeting, the Board accepted the Heritage Commission’s recommendation to publish the historical report developed by members of the commission.
- Read this report: The History of the County Courthouse and its Role in the Path to Freedom, Justice and Racial Equality in Loudoun County (PDF).
The Board forwarded the commission’s other recommendations to a future Finance, Government Operations and Economic Development Committee. Those recommendations are:
- Allocating funds and directing staff to pursue National Historic Landmark status for the courthouse;
- Naming the old or new courthouse after prominent African-American attorney Charles Hamilton Houston;
- Creating an interpretive “Path Toward Freedom” walk on the courthouse grounds; and
- Implementing a professionally-facilitated community process to design and place memorials along the interpretive walk honoring “Loudoun County’s path to freedom and justice.”
The commission seeks public input on this project on an ongoing basis.
Email the Heritage Commission to provide feedback and share historical resources.
- Donna Bohanon
- Mitch Diamond
- Lori Kimball
- Robert Pollard
- Bronwen Souders
- Michelle Thomas
- Bill Wilkin
- Kacey Young
For More Information
If you have questions about the project, email Heidi Siebentritt in the Department of Planning and Zoning or call 703-777-0246.