Trustees Sought for Slave Burial Ground

The establishment of a board of trustees to maintain and protect a long-abandoned slave cemetery in Ashburn moved a small step closer during a Circuit Court hearing Wednesday.

Judge Thomas D. Horne heard from Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman and an attorney representing a group of residents who have been leading the restoration effort of the burial ground.

The appointment of trustees is among the final steps needed for Toll Brothers to transfer ownership of the 2.75-acre site at the southeast quadrant of the Rt. 7/Rt. 659 interchange, part of the Belmont County Club property. However, the process of making those appointments is the subject of competing court filings.

The citizen group, led by the Rev. Michelle Thomas, has worked with Toll Brothers and county government representatives for more than a year to protect and restore the overgrown cemetery, where gravesites are marked with fieldstones. Under the plan, the developer will create a separate lot for the burial ground and transfer ownership to the trustees.

Plowman last month filed a petition asking the Circuit Court to appoint a trustee board of five to nine members. His motion asked that the appointees “represent a broad range of interests and that will serve to protect and preserve the cemetery parcel …”

Attorney Benjamin Leigh, representing Thomas’ group, then filed a motion asking the court to appoint 10 specific Ashburn-area residents, including representatives of the Loudoun Freedom Center, members of the Thomas Balch Library Black History Committee and a descendant of one of the people buried on the property.

In subsequent court filings and arguments before Horne today, Plowman and Leigh challenged the legal standing of the other to request the trustee appointments.

While denying a motion to have Leigh’s clients granted status as legal intervening parties in Plowman’s case and declining to formally merge the two cases, Horne agreed to publicly advertise for residents who want to serve as trustees and to include both Plowman and Leigh in the process of collecting those expressions of interest.

The parties will return to court Oct. 4 to review the applications.

2 thoughts on “Trustees Sought for Slave Burial Ground

  • 2017-07-12 at 4:59 pm
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    Michelle Thomas should certainly be part of any trustees group. But, why not open it up to the County at large to see who may be interested? Handpicking the 10 members as a slate doesn’t do much to enhance the Board. Just because people weren’t aware of the cemetery, doesn’t mean people don’t care and it doesn’t mean that there may be subject matter experts of any/all races and creeds that may offer excellent service as a trustee.

  • 2017-07-13 at 1:14 pm
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    Let me bring you all up to speed. I have been working along with Pastor Michelle for the past two years coordinating the community interest for the preservation and restoration of the Belmont Slave Cemetery. Toll Brothers has been very wiling to transfer the property as long as their interests in profferer previously given to the County are not triggered and certain property boundaries are maintained. Also working along side to support the greater community concerns have been the Loudon Freedom center, and various groups including the Loudoun County Heritage Commission, the Thomas Balch Library Black History Committee and administrative staff from Loudoun County Government. All discussions that have been supported and recognized by the Loundoun County Board of Supervisiors were to conclude with a property transfer from Toll Brothers to the County and then from the County to a court appointed group of trustess. The county had agreed to recommend to the court trustees that were to be put forward by the working group led by pastor Michelle. this was where things were left after a last meeting in April with the County, VDOTand the county legal staff. In fact two drafts of the legal court petitions were drafted and circulated. These petitions had a property transfer from Toll Brothers to the County and the other had the county transfer to the court appointed trustees. On June 9th we were notified that the Commonwealth Attorney, Jim Plowman had intervened and by his own admission decided that the county should not have a role to play in this matter and that he with our seeking inout or advice from anyone else had decided that the process of selecting trustees needed to more open to the public. the actions of concerned citizens yesterday was to fight against this hostile takeover of a process that was fair to all concerned and would allow the court to hear recommendation from the county about the qualifications of those who had been working the last two years to protect this property. Mr. Plowman referred to us yesterday as “Those People” adding insult to a situation where his intervention has proven to be unfair and disruptive to a process where he had no standing. His action to arbitrailly remove the county only proves his bad intent and allows him to control a process where the County and not the Commonwealth Attorney’s office has the responsible to protect people’s interest. Mr. Plowman nearly stared for the Court and all to hear that he was in court yesterday to represent the interests of Toll Brothers. The court disagreed with that representation and now on October 4th, Toll Brothers must appear in a show cause order and clearly state their desire to transfer the property to the court appointed trustees. It is not easy to understand the full gravity of the situation unless you have been active in most of the meetings. The culprit is not Toll Brothers but they are central figures and must conclude this business. I don’t believe the Mr. Plowman had no conversation with anyone on the County administrative or legal side but he will not reveal any of those conversations so we have proceeded to request email communications between his office and the county legal team. If that does not work we will keep reaching until we find out the true intent of this disruption. Mr. Plowman and maybe others have different motives for who should and should not become trustees for this sacred property but the Court and the Court of public opinion will have the final say. October 4th is also the date on which the court will hear testimony from those who have submitted applications to serve as trustees. We will be posting the application dates and who can receive those applications at a later date. Many thanks to all the concerned citizens, friends, elected officials Jennifer Wexton and Randy Minchew, who packed the courtroom. Special thanks to our great friends from the ADAMS center Rizwan Jaka and Priscilla Martinez and their family representing the interests of the muslim enslaved who are many among the dead buried in Belmont Cemetery. This site is also to be host this Fall of an Eagle Court project for one of their sons.
    Anyone might want to become a trustee but how many want to be stewards of the many lives and families destroyed by slavery. This is more than property!

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