Just Like Nothing (else) on Earth
By Tim Jon
The Department of Historic Resources in 2017 set up a marker at this site – calling the facility we examine today, the ‘Ashburn Colored School.’ I’m asking your permission – today – to just call it ‘the school.’ I’m colored. You’re colored. Others are colored. It’s quite a palette we’ve got here.
Referring back to the official sign erected at 20581 Ashburn Road – perhaps an even more jarring note reminds us that Loudoun County Public Schools continued to segregate its students until the Year 1968; this, despite the US Supreme Court ruling in 1954 on the unconstitutionality of this very practice (and, wasn’t there an earlier American document declaring all men equal?).
This is our history. Mine, yours, and others – at least concerning education in Loudoun County, Virginia. A difficult thing, at times, examining the role of one intersection within the universal time-space dimensions.
And while I feel the unfairness in reading on that placard that schools for African American children received less funding and offered fewer educational opportunities than did their counterparts for ‘white’ students, I get a sense (and I’ll stand behind my intuition here) that this facility represented more than just a place to be for a certain period of time – each day – for those who attended classes within its walls.
I found myself fortunate enough to step inside and share space with as much of that history as I could imagine, at least trying to soak up some of the previous energies which filled this one-room facility. I found dreams, ambitions, friendships, discoveries and the pleasant growth pains of youthful, exuberant brain activity; admittedly, I also gained a sense of frustrations, limited resources, impoverishment, and other less defined uncertainties and difficulties.
But, referring back to that sign erected by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources – reminding us that this particular school remained open until 1958 (when the Public School System transferred these students to another segregated facility in Leesburg), I derive a sense of comfort that this space offered at least some type of educational (and, no doubt, social) opportunity for those young people since its construction in 1892: my senses (and sensibilities, perhaps) told me that in that half-century and more of teaching and learning, that a great deal indeed was accomplished here. I believe I’m correct in describing a sense of the sacred within these walls. At least that’s what I found.
I recall a quote from a favorite theatre director: “Every audience gets the show they deserve.” On the day of my recent visit to ‘the school,’ I was an audience of one. I witnessed a show, of sorts – maybe not the kind I could capture on camera or microphone, but one recorded in the back of the mind, somewhere in the soul.
Yes, this site represents just a portion of the difficult struggle for human rights in the United States, and over our world; that process includes pain, ignorance, disappointment, prejudice, inequality, outrage, separation and tragedy. But – and I’d like to believe more importantly – that timeline (obviously still playing out) also witnesses courage, resilience, understanding, unity, triumph and love.
On the day I explored the space, the skies over Ashburn let down a healthy stream of rain; after I’d had the honor of enjoying this small, yet expansive, educational environment, I had a definite sense of regret in opening the door and stepping out into the downpour.
I can’t help but feel that those who came here before me often – metaphorically speaking – had a similar feeling. But, just as there was a ‘colored school,’ which may not have featured the brightest and loudest of the ‘bells and whistles’ of a state-of-the-art education – yet it offered some type of learning experience and sanctuary; the same door which allowed me to experience this holy shrine also provided me (and, again – those who had come and gone before) with sufficient nourishment for the heart and soul and mind so that I could face the day outside – as well as the remainder of my week, and month, year, and life.
At least that’s the hopeful side of me. And that’s where I prefer to live. So, I’m glad I found ‘the school,’ and I’m glad it offered what services it could in the time it had. To my finding, it still serves its purpose.
And yes, I’m aware that an incident of vandalism occurred at the facility some five years prior to this writing; I’m also informed that the juveniles involved in the act received a series of educational exercises as their ‘punishment.’ I could think of nothing more appropriate.