Efforts to protect the African American Burial Ground for the Enslaved at Belmont—and to better tell the stories of those interred there—are advancing thanks to the work of a Loudoun eagle scout candidate.
On Saturday, Mikaeel Martinez Jaka was leading a team of 17 volunteers to begin construction of the Journey to Freedom Heritage Trail, which will lead visitors through the final resting place of more than 40 people at the southern quadrant of the Rt. 7/Belmont Road interchange. The burial site was ignored and overgrown when the Loudoun Freedom Center three years ago launched a campaign to preserve the site and tell the stories of those buried there, including who were many held as slaves on the nearby Belmont Plantation. Last year, Toll Brothers, the developer of Belmont, deeded the property to the center.
Jaka’s eagle scout project is to build the 400-foot gravel trail. He quickly raised the $5,000 budgeted for the work and secured donations from Browning Equipment, which loaned a tractor and loader for the excavation; Luck Stone, which is contributing 16 tons of gravel; and Shirley Contracting, which will haul it. Also, the Sterling Charitable Gift Fund contributed $1,000.
“It was really amazing how this was something that was done in two weeks.” Jaka said. “It is something that is really important to the community and it shows through that.”
Perhaps the most significant contribution came from a donor requesting anonymity who had an ancestor who was a slave trader active in Loudoun County.
“It is really inspiring,” Jaka said. “This is a part of American history that is often forgotten or ignored and it is really something that has to be brought to the conversation today. It is our duty living today to recognize and honor and give them the respect and dignity that they didn’t get but they deserve.”
During Saturday’s outing, the path was cleared and roughly graded, being the first of three workdays planned to complete the trail. Next, the volunteers will be installing board framing for the gravel and then spreading and leveling the gravel along the entire trail.