Editor: The term “Those People” is a particularly derogatory expression that has been used to demean the value or undermine the existence of people of the African American descent by some who refuse to justify their legitimate existence. The term “Those People” has also been used as a tool to reassert to slaves that they were just slaves, thus discounting their humanness.
I raise this point because it was ironic that during a court hearing on July 12, the Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman used this term as he was making a case against ten individual members of our community who were seeking to state their rights to intervene against the petition that was filed in court concerning the process to appoint trustees to oversee the Belmont Slave Cemetery.
“Those People” he said, have no standing in this matter and proceeded to discount their claim of standing despite the work of this group and others working with the County for over two years to protect the Belmont Slave Cemetery.
The enslaved like the ones at Belmont Plantation had no rights and no claim in their own lives, they were just property. On July 12, in open court, the commonwealth’s attorney asserted that these ten individuals had no standing in this matter because their claim, while based on heritage and actual dependent connection, was not sufficient because they were not property holders. Mr. Plowman asserted that Toll Brothers was the rightful property owner and he was representing their interests in court. It has never been an issue about who owned the land; the issue has always been who is buried in the land. Aside from any judicial obligations you might have to the law Mr. Plowman, there is an obligation to justice and to see that the rights of the wrongfully enslaved are represented in a way that does not treat their final resting place simply as property. Please consider that point as you make recommendations to the Court about who you think would make a good trustee.
These people, Mr. Plowman, who could not legally represent themselves are deserving of legal representation and your action to arbitrarily remove the County from the process and to state in open court that you represented the interests of Toll Brothers is nothing short of choosing property over people. The court disagreed with your claim to represent the interests of Toll Brothers and now on October 4th, Toll Brothers must appear in court and clearly state their desire to transfer the property to the court appointed trustees.
So, who are these people buried in the Belmont Slave Cemetery? I believe that they were human beings – intelligent, capable and accomplished before they were brought to this country. They were parents, grandparents and had loving extended families whose descendants are among us today in Loudoun County. They were people of many religions, forms of worship and expressions of faith.
My passion to tell their stories and restore the burial grounds is in honor of their lives and the many contributions they made. The trustees will be the only voices of standing that represent these lives and this sacred place.
Many thanks to all the concerned citizens, friends and elected officials including Jennifer Wexton, Randy Minchew and Suzanne Fox 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 those enslaved many of whom were Muslim.
I strongly encourage anyone who might want to become a trustee to consider what it means to be a steward of the bodies and the obligation to honor the history of the many lives and families that persisted against overwhelming odds to survive, live, love and create the legacies that make our lives better today.
These people (not those people) who are buried in this land might have been enslaved but they were always more than property.
Ron Campbell, Leesburg
[Editor’s Note; The writer is a member of the Leesburg Town Council.]