Leesburg Lynching Victim Remembered, Procession Packs Leesburg Streets

More than 100 people on Wednesday joined a procession and Juneteenth ceremony, marking the abolition of slavery on June 19, 1865, in the last former Confederate state, Texas.

But the central focus of the day was a remembrance of another expression of racial violence: lynching, specifically the lynching of 14-year-old Orion Anderson in Leesburg on Nov. 8, 1889. He was accused of jumping out and scaring a white girl of the same age while wearing a bag over his head. He was arrested based on circumstantial evidence. According to research by the Loudoun Freedom Center and county historians, accounts at the time allege variously that he simply scared her, chased her, assaulted her, or attempted to rape her.

Loudoun County Clerk of the Circuit Court Historic Records Manager Eric Larson said, although Anderson was arrested, there are no court records in his case because he never made it in front of a grand jury. Within 24 hours of a summons for witnesses, a mob rode to the jail in the early morning, on horses with feet wrapped up to muffle their noise, and dragged Anderson away to hang him at a freight depot, near what today is the intersection of Harrison Street and the W&OD trail near Raflo Park.

Nobody was ever convicted for the murder.

“What it should inspire us to do at the end of the day is make sure that these stories happen no more,” said Leesburg Councilman Ron Campbell. “Not in our time, not on our watch, not in this day.”

Wednesday afternoon, a procession followed Anderson’s trail from the site of the old jail—now a Church Street parking lot, behind the courthouse complex—to the location where Anderson was hanged from a derrick. There, a historical marker with Anderson’s story was unveiled.

“As we proceed down Church road, I want you to take with you this thought, that you are empowered to never, ever have this happen in our community again,” said Loudoun Freedom Center founder and Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas, who led the event.

Two descendants of the Anderson family attended. Michelle Lane of Sterling said she was “overwhelmed” to learn about this part of her family’s history.

“This gives him a voice,” said James Howard, of Leesburg. “Now he doesn’t go down in history just as someone who was lynched.”

And speakers at the event did not treat racial violence as a settled issue.

“If we believe that this is over, and the killing of black people and brown people is over, let me tell you something,” said County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “Orion Anderson is Travyon Martin.” She referred also to Eric Garner and Jordan Baker, two black men killed by police, and other victims of racially tinged violence.

Thomas said the impact of Anderson’s story can still be felt today, referring to a statement by President Donald J. Trump the day before, in which he stood by his decision in 1989 to take out newspaper advertisements calling for the return of the death penalty in New York to execute of a group of five black and Hispanic men. They had been arrested and charged with the rape of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park. The men had not been convicted at the time.

They were later convicted and served four to 13 years in prison before their convictions were vacated 2002. Another person had confessed to the crime, and DNA evidence exonerated the “Central Park Five.” Trump said Tuesday, “you have people on both sides of that.”

Attorney General Mark Herring also participated in the memorial service.  “ignoring this painful part of our history makes it too easy to forget it, and we cannot rectify the legacy of racism and white supremacy until we confront it, and when we forget we make it possible or the sins of the past to be repeated.”

“We are also in a moment when our nation and our state are confronting a rise and frightening reemergence of hate and white supremacist violence,” Herring said. “And the question we all must ask ourselves as individuals and as communities is, what will we do in response?”

Scouts leads a procession from the Church Street Parking Lot to the W&OD Trail near Raflo Park for Juneteenth Wednesday, June 19. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]

Rev. David Mylam of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Purcellville leads prayers during a Juneteenth ceremony on the W&OD Trail Wednesday, June 19. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Central Park Five were never convicted.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

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