A memorial in the courthouse square to Loudouners who died serving in World War I will be replaced with one that does not segregate those service members by race.
The plaque, on a stone monument, lists 30 names. Three of those are at the bottom of the plaque, separated by a line—the three Black people on the list, Pvts. Ernest Gilbert, Valentine B. Johnson and Samuel C. Thornton. The memorial was erected 1921, three years after the war, donated by the American Legion. It will be replaced with a new one with a similar design, but with all of the names listed together.
The push to replace the plaque is led by Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). He previously contacted American Legion Post 34 to ask about replacing the plaque, receiving its support as well as a letter from the War Memorial Trust Committee that includes local veterans, members of American Legion Post 34, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1177, which also endorsed the idea of simply listing all names on the plaque alphabetically.
They also suggested rededicating the memorial on its 100th anniversary next year.
Supervisors unanimously supported the change.
“Thank you, Supervisor Turner, for putting this up so that we can make the changes that are needed in our county, that we see that soldiers fought side by side for our country, and that we should not delineate the person because of their color or their race,” said Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run).
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said “all history should be told, all history should be learned, but not all history should be celebrated.”
“These people made the supreme sacrifice in the Great War, so how are we going to separate them not just in life, but separate them in death?” Randall said.
“Not only did African Americans fight along[side] white soldiers in WWI and honorably, many faced severe discrimination when they came back,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian). “And just for having the audacity to wear their uniforms, at times, they were beaten an even worse, so this is just a small way that we can honor that. I’m sure many expected to have the honor afforded to them that so many other soldiers had afforded to them once they honorably served in our United States armed forces, and they didn’t get that when they came back.”
The money to replace the plaque will come from the War Memorial Trust Fund, which is overseen by the War Memorial Trust Committee. It is expected it will take about six months to procure, manufacture and place the new plaque.
The county will also have to decide what to do with the current plaque; county staff members will explore options in that time, such as offering it to a museum or historical society.
The desegregation of the names on the monument by the county government was made possible by new state law that went into effect this July, the same one that allowed the Board of Supervisors to consider taking down the Confederate monument that formerly stood in front of the old courthouse. After those talks began that monument was taken by its owners, the Daughters of the Confederacy.
This article was updated Dec. 15 at 1:26 p.m. to include the names of the three Black service members on the WWI memorial plaque.