The Douglass High School Commemorative Committee is recommending that the historic building be a shared space for three agencies—the Edwin Washington Project, the Douglass High School Alumni Association, and the Loudoun Chapter of the NAACP.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28 the panel shared prospective preservation plans for the site with the School Board.
The Douglass High School building on East Market Street in Leesburg was the site of education for Black students in Loudoun County from 1941 to 1958. After de-segregation in Loudoun County in 1968, the building was used as a middle school, and a special education and alternative school.
This year, those operations have moved to the new North Star School on Catoctin Circle and the building is undergoing renovations. The commemorative committee was appointed to make recommendations on the future use of the property, the ownership of which has been transferred to the county government.
“Our mission is to determine how the history and importance of this high school will be shared. … We want to make sure we are able to tell a story about the school,” Committee co-chairwoman Erica Busch told the board. “Not just the building. But the story of those who founded the school. The teachers, the students, the parents those who worked in the school, and we want to tell a story that resonates with the community for years to come.”
Possibilities for the outside space include an amphitheater, updated landscaping, statues, benches, pavers with names, and a time capsule.
Inside the building, the committee is eying a diorama of Leesburg from the early 20th century, a photo display of Frederick Douglass, interactive booths with historic information, and guided tours. The committee is seeking a one-dollar bill from 1941, the year Douglass High School was founded. The bill would be a nod to the payment Black families received when they were forced to sell the land, which they had purchased for $4,000, to county leaders during the long battle to have the school built.
The building’s cornerstone includes a time capsule buried in 1941, which committee co-chairman Charles Avery, a Douglass High School alum, said he is “burning with curiosity to open.”
Avery told to the board that, under the committee’s recommended plan, the three organizations would collaborate to maintain the building’s displays and programming.
Avery also praised the School Board for creating the committee.
“I want to thank each of you for choosing to land on the right side of history with the commissioning of this committee,” Avery said. “We are historians who are commemorating history and legacy and partnering with you to make a mark in history.”