Loudoun County supervisors have approved Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling)’s request to work with federal authorities to rename a spot at Claude Moore Park today known as “Negro Hill,” instead pushing to name it after the Nokes family, which farmed the land in the Sterling area.
The small rise, charted and named by the U.S. Geological Service, is just south of the Cascades Parkway interchange with Rt. 7. In the federal Geographic Names Information Systems database, it is known as both Negro Hill as well as another, more offensive racial slur.
Saines said county leaders became aware of the name a man in Alexandria petitioned to change the name. As part of the process of renaming a place, the federal government reached out to Loudoun County for input.
The man had proposed renaming it Douglass Hill, after Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to become a national leader of the abolitionist movement before the Civil War, and worked to support for black people’s and women’s civil rights until his death. Saines said that was a good choice, but proposed a name with a more local connection.
“While Frederick Douglass was a great American, he did not have any ties to Loudoun,” Saines said. “The Nokes family has a storied history here in Sterling and Loudoun County. This includes owning land on and near the hill back in literally the 1900s. That is pretty remarkable, for an African-American family to be owning so much land during that time period.”
Supervisors also directed the county’s Heritage Commission to research the history of the hill and area, including the Nokes family’s connection to it.
“This is just—it’s absolutely stunning that we still have names such as this on federal papers, and people still see this as names that are still called hat in this day and age, 2020,” said Supervisor Sylvia Russell Glass (D-Broad Run). “And that we are finally making moves to make these changes—I just want to thank you very much.”
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she was not surprised by the name.
“The goal of calling this piece of property what it was called … was simply meant to continue to put them in their place, to tell them who they were and what they could or couldn’t do,” Randall said.
Saines said the change “will help Loudoun as we move forward from our dark past to our bright future, where we will heal the wounds of history as a united community.”
Saines first spoke publicly about the hill during a Feb. 15 event at the Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, where area historians joined descendants from eastern Loudoun’s black farm families to talk about their history. Nokes family members are still in Loudoun—Richard Nokes being among the speakers at the event—and Nokes Boulevard is named for them.
A second discussion on farming in Sterling is planned Friday, Feb. 21 at Rust Library in Leesburg at 2 p.m.