Honoring Edwin Washington

News:  For news on the project, see News Items.

The Edwin Washington Project (updated 3/8/2017)

  • In June, 1867, a “colored” 16 year old boy named Edwin Washington worked in a hotel in Leesburg, Virginia for five dollars a month, plus board, with the “privilege of coming to school” in between errands.   Unfortunately, this meant he couldn’t attend school on a regular basis, or at all during court weeks.  Still, he went to class whenever he could.  It was the same for young girls and even parents rushed to school after war.  This research project is a monument to all of the African-American children and their parents, educators and patrons of that time and through to the end of segregation in Loudoun in order to honor their bravery and tenacity to learn,
  • Edwin wrote the following, speaking for all his generation.  The title is “Going to School”

I think it is a very good thing to go to school and learn to read and write. It is the first opportunity we ever had, and we ought to make good use of it. I think it will be a great improvement to us. We ought to love our teacher, and mind her and respect her; and if we love her she will love us, and we ought to love and respect everybody.” Signed   Edwin Washington.”

  • Going to school was tough in a farming community for any child, more so for African-Americans; but in one of the great civil-rights marches of all time they strode to not only educate the people who emerged from enslavement; but also to convince future generations to do the same.   Let’s all have a round of applause for Edwin!

History of the Project:

The effort began in 2012 by Larry Roeder, MS, who is now joined by a team of graduate students, academics and others to fully document the “colored” schools of Loudoun County that existed between the end of the Civil War and full integration, the teachers, students and structures, as well as what was studied and the methods.   This was the period of official segregation; eventually the white schools will also be documented.  The project is done at the behest of the Records Office of the Loudoun County Public Schools and in collaboration with the Prosperity Baptist Church, the Black History Committee of the Friends of the Balch Library, the Archives of the Circuit Court of Loudoun County, the Loudoun County School for the Gifted, Oatlands Plantation, Loudoun-based historians, the Balch Library, The Purcellville Historical Society, the Lovettsville Historical Society, the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition, Howard University, Virginia State University Archives, and many others.

The model upon which the work is based derives from the Conklin project commissioned by Prosperity Baptist Church in Conklin, Loudoun County and started by Roeder in 2011. We can’t lose this history. It might be called ”Fighting Jim Crow with Education: A story of Loudoun’s African-American Community.”  Anti-Jim crow actions would include simply building the schools, since education provided economic opportunities.  It would also include law suits and formal petitions by the families of African-Americans to demand equal access to bus transportation, reduce over crowding, require equal pay and build Douglass High School, some led by famed civil rights attorney James H. Raby.

We plan to post a lot of data never before published and a catalog to help researchers.  We also plan to synthesize the stories into meaningful essays because the effort to educate was  brave, costly, difficult and essential, and the people who were involved, white and African-American, deserve recognition.

During Reconstruction, white teachers flocked to Loudoun, thanks to Quakers, the Freedmen’s Bureau and other bodies, much like contemporary relief NGOs travel to impoverished parts of the world at great physical risk. They were essentially educational missionaries, often working at physical risk.  This would include the Quaker Caroline Thomas who instructed at “the Tate” school and in Leesburg, and later instructed Indians. White instructor Mattie Mathews taught at both Conklin and white schools like McGraw’s Ridge. She was born on the Manassas battlefield.   There were also important African-American teachers like Rosa Carter who became famous in Middleburg,  and John C. Walker (1871-1953) who instructed for over 53 years, partly at the high School level in Leesburg at the Loudoun County Training School, prior to the opening of Douglass High School.

There was also Bushrod W. Murray (part of the instructor class of 1892) who made a career at Mountain Gap and was an important part of its religious community. Many teachers in fact taught both the alphabet that formed words, as well as the word of God, like Christine Allen, an African-American educated at Armstrong in Washington DC, and then instructed at Conklin and became a secretary of the local church, itself a symbol of education, as it was started by former slave and educator Jennie Dean.   Don’t forget William Horace Ash, born into slavery in Loudoun, but also educated by emancipators, elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and an educator in Leesburg.

Teacher accounts inform us that after the Civil War, recently freed and certainly desperately poor parents had to fight against Jim Crow.  To accomplish that, those brave, determined people  took money out of their pockets.  Reducing their clothing and food, they invested in their children’s books, lunches.  In other words, the one-room wooden frame school houses and their successors should be seen as cathedrals to liberty.  Such determination to better the next generation cannot be lost in the mists of history, especially as it was a tool to push back on Jim Crow.   The children’s determination to learn must also not be forgotten, a legacy every contemporary child should understand when tempted to miss homework.  We have found notes from teachers speaking of the love of learning, of children who walked into class illiterate and then stepped away with the ability to build a career and participate more fully in the political scene. Those children had many hardships, such as having to walk to class, when white children in later years had buses and wagons to convey them.  Both white and African-American children also had to frequently delay graduation by years because of the needs of the harvest.

Creating a high school in Leesburg was a true civil rights struggle, a period in which Black children were also not allowed to share white school yards for sports, and then there was the Brown vs Board of Education decision and the struggle of racists like James Kilpatrick who implied that African-Americans were biologically inferior and that segregation was necessary. African-Americans right here in Loudoun proved Kilpatrick’s words were lies.

Larry Roeder, MS

Note:  Tech To Us provides internet security to the Edwin Washington Project.  In our opinion, they are the best and friendliest, as well as reasonably priced.

About Edwin Washington Project

Retired US Diplomat and Historian.
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