Mary Lack was 15 in February 1862 when a Mississippi soldier gave her a valentine to remember.
"I love you, Mollie, you need not be uneasy," Pvt. Thomas H. Magee told Mary, using his nickname for her, as they stood in her family's parlor in Leesburg.
Then he kissed her.
In wartime, romance blooms quickly. Mary had known Magee -- she called him Magee or, less often, Tommy -- for only three months, but her thoughts turned to a wedding and life with him in Mississippi. After the war was over, all would be well, and they would live in a pretty white house with flowers all around.
For one year, Nov. 24, 1861, to Nov. 11, 1862, Mary shared her feelings with a diary, writing as though she was confiding in her best friend. There was gossip about the town drunks and disgust for the Northern sympathizers. She worried about the cost of seeing the dentist and fumed when she had to take over kitchen duties because her mother was ill.
But mostly she pined for Magee, a farmer from Union, six years her senior.
"Bless his heart, he's the sweetest darling that ever lived," she wrote one day. On another, "Dear Magee, I wish he was safe out of this old war."
In her own way, Mary was also in the midst of the war. Her King Street house trembled when cannons were fired nearby, and the moans of the wounded could be heard as they were carried to the hospital around the corner.
Mary and Magee had met at Sunday services at nearby St. James Episcopal Church when his regiment was camped just outside town. Her parents invited him and several other soldiers to come home with them for dinner, and Magee returned often after that. He and Mary wrote poems to each other and played card games that would forecast their future.
She made him pouches and sewed him hats. He brought her sheet music.
Then, on a windy, cold day in early March, Magee's 18th Mississippi regiment broke camp and left town. "They set fire to all the camps, stockyards, Smart's Mill, the depot before they left," she wrote.
Then she waited for letters, spending time working on patchwork quilts, making a summer dress and helping her mother in the kitchen.
"I wonder where my dear darling Magee is now," she wrote. "God bless him and protect him from all harm."
There were no letters.
Six months had passed when the Mississippi boys again marched through Leesburg.
"The whole Southern army has been passing by here these last two or three days on their way over to Maryland," she wrote on Sept. 7.
She was at the gate, watching the troops, when she saw him.
"Directly he came out to where I was and put his arm around me and pressed a kiss on my lips. My heavens, I felt like I was in heaven."
Then he was gone, carrying the war north to Sharpsburg, Md., and the Battle of Antietam.
Her diary ends in November -- still with no word from Magee.
His service records show that he was wounded on Sept. 17 at Sharpsburg and sent to a hospital in Winchester, remaining on the injured list for the next 10 months.
But he was uninjured during the previous July and August, when, according to those same records, he was on a two-month furlough that he apparently didn't spend in Leesburg. But he was injured again at Cold Harbor on June 2, 1864, ending up at a Richmond hospital, where a finger was amputated. He was out of action through October 1864, then returned to his unit only to desert on Feb. 23, 1865.
Mary did not live to see the end of the war or the fulfillment of her dream -- with Magee or a later love. She died in Leesburg on July 27, 1864, at 18 -- the cause is not recorded, although consumption commonly claimed young lives in those days -- and is buried in the St. James cemetery

There’s a story behind the aging, two-story building near the southern 
edge of Leesburg’s Union Cemetery. The school system has used it 
for storage since the late ’50s, but for 75 years, it was a centerpiece 
of education for Loudoun County’s black students.
Guthrie Ashton, now 77, attended elementary school there. He 
walked to class each day from his home on the south end of town, 
near where Food Lion is today. “It was a hike. The school was 
across town from where most blacks lived,” he said.
Stories like Ashton’s, and those of so many others who spent their 
formative years at that school, may get new life.
The Douglass Alumni Association and the Loudoun Freedom Center 
have plans to either lease or purchase the historic structure, plus a 
second brick building next door, and turn it into a living museum.
The Douglass Alumni Association includes many men and women, now in 
their 70s and 80s, who attended the school on Union Street when it was known as 
the Leesburg Training School, Leesburg Colored School, and later as Douglass Elementary School. The building served as a school until 1958, 
when Frederick Douglass Elementary School opened on Sycolin Road.
The Loudoun Freedom Center is working alongside those alumni to 
eventually move into the Union Street school. The move would be 
in line with the nonprofit’s mission to restore and preserve sites that 
were important to Loudoun’s black residents.
“We have first-hand accounts of what it was like to attend school 
there,” said Michelle C. Thomas, founder and executive director 
of the Loudoun Freedom Center. “We want to help them tell their 
The Loudoun County School Board is taking the first steps to set that 
plan into motion. At its meeting Tuesday, it is expected to 
unanimously approve on its consent agenda spending $3,500 
to have the property at 20 Union St. surveyed. The next step would 
involve a potential rezoning application through the Town of 
A few School Board members last week spoke in support of r
eturning the building back to the African American community.
“I think it makes total sense as a School Board to not be custodians 
of these historic sites. A museum or foundation would do a 
better job,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said.
Thomas, who also serves as the pastor of Holy & Whole Life 
Changing Ministries International, said the groups’ goal is to 
make the once-forgotten building once again an educational hub.
Similar to the one-room Second Street School in Waterford, that is 
run by the Waterford Foundation, Thomas and others want the 
Union Street school to give visiting students a glimpse of what 
school would have been like for black children at the time.
Seeing the building today makes Ashton think of the great teachers 
he had and the lifelong friendships he made. “It would mean a 
lot to see it restored,” he said.
The long-term plan also includes retrofitting part of the property 
for a preschool that focuses on STEM (science, technology, 
education and math) and a program that teaches students how to 
grow their own food. Thomas noted that the students of that 
school didn’t have a cafeteria, but were expected to bring, and 
even grow, their own lunches.
The Loudoun Freedom Center also wants to establish a DNA 
lab at the site to process materials that may be found at the slave 
cemeteries it is working to protect.
Ideally, the building will not sit quiet any longer, Thomas said. 
“If we can get this space used 24/7, I would love it. I’m looking 
for it to be a centerpiece in the historic district of Leesburg.”
Two other groups have expressed interest in the building in 
recent years, according to the school system staff. Two years ago, 
business owners asked about renting the space for an art studio, 
but they deferred their request when they heard about the 
Douglass Alumni Association’s plans. Then in 2015, 
Loudoun Cares, an umbrella organization for nonprofits, 
expressed interest before it settled into space on South King Street. 
State law does not require the School Board to hold a competitive 
process to rent or sell the property.
Thomas said this would be the first historical site in Loudoun to 
be run by members of the black community. She noted that the 
Waterford Foundation owns and operates the Second Street School 
and the Loudoun School for the Gifted, a small private school, 
owns and is restoring the historic Ashburn Colored School.
“Until now, there’s not been an organization primarily led by African Americans to preserve these historic resources,” she said. “This is new territory.”

In Our Backyard: The History of Banneker 


By Jane Covington
Loudoun County, as typical of other localities, provided inferior educational
facilities for its African- American students during the Jim Crow era.
In the early 1900s, many of the African-American schools were one or
two-room schoolhouses with marginal facilities, usually with only a wood
stove for heat and an outhouse. Following the mandate of “Separate but Equal”
established in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, African-Americans protested for
“equalization”—equal pay for their teachers and equal facilities for their students.
By 1930, a national movement had started under the leadership of the NAACP.
In 1938, involved parents of local African-American students formed a
protest movement, known as the County-Wide League, in Loudoun County. 
The League hired attorney Charles H. Houston to help them with their efforts.
Houston was a national figure, serving both as dean of the Howard University
School of Law and special counsel for the NAACP.  Future Supreme Court Justice
Thurgood Marshall was one of his students. As a result of these efforts,
over the next decade, slow progress was made in Loudoun with the opening of
Douglass High School in Leesburg (1941), and two consolidated
elementary schools, Carver in Purcellville (1947), and Banneker in St. Louis,
near Middleburg (1948).  Until Douglass High School began holding classes,
African-Americans were allowed to attend trade school, but opportunities for
them to receive a high school education in Loudoun were virtually non-existent.
The community of St. Louis was established in 1881 when Thomas Glascock,
who owned surrounding farmland, sold one-acre lots to formerly enslaved families.
By the last quarter of the 19th century, the farmland evolved into a village
with the 1877 opening of the one-room Hamlin School, and the 1885
establishment of Mt. Zion Church. The Hamlin School, despite its
rudimentary “sanitary” and heating facilities, remained in use until 1948, when it
was replaced in response to parents’ protests for better conditions for their children.
In the fall of 1948, Banneker opened its doors as one of Loudoun’s first
consolidated “Colored schools.” In addition to replacing the Hamlin School,
Banneker supplanted several other schools whose facilities had fallen into
disrepair, including the two-room Middleburg School, and the
Marble Quarry School near Mountville. Banneker’s “fireproof” building, with
its clinic, kitchen, radiant heat and indoor plumbing, was the epitome of
modern convenience compared with the schools it replaced. Parents and
community members provided desks, chairs, and kitchen equipment, and
furnished the multipurpose room. Along with the area churches, Banneker s
oon became part of the social center of the St. Louis community.
During the early 1950s, confronting sustained pressure from the NAACP,
Virginia  Governor John S. Battle apparently realized the state might not be
able to postpone or even prevent a racially integrated school system unless
the standards of “Separate but Equal” were met. Consequently, the state 
made available $75 million in construction funds to improve African-American 
schools in an attempt to meet those standards. Three schools in Loudoun 
benefited from additional funding:  Banneker Elementary and Douglass 
High School were expanded to alleviate crowded conditions, and a new 
building was constructed at Douglass Elementary, as the original building 
had fallen into disrepair.  In 1952, Banneker was expanded to incorporate 
students from the Bull Run School located southeast of Aldie.
In an interview, Fred Drummond, who served as principal from 1953 to 1
958, described Banneker’s overcrowded conditions, “There was no
limit to classroom size,” and under-staffed positions. “The full time custodian
doubled as a bus driver.”  Even so, Mr. Drummond characterized
Banneker (and Carver) as the “Cadillacs of the minority schools in Loudoun,”
adding that other Black schools (Ashburn Colored and Willisville Colored,
for example) had just one overcrowded room which lacked indoor plumbing
and central heat.  He also noted the close support from Banneker’s PTA,
which raised the funds to pay for a part-time school secretary, and from
community leaders, including Paul Mellon and Charlotte Noland.
In Brown v. Board of Education, argued by Thurgood Marshall on behalf of
the NAACP, and decided in 1954, the Supreme Court invalidated “Separate
but Equal.” But Virginia responded by defying the Supreme Court decision.
Construction funds continued to be made available to upgrade
African-American Schools in an attempt to perpetuate “Separate but Equal.” 
With this money, in 1960, Banneker was expanded a third time,
incorporating students from Willisville School; again, Banneker took in students
from a neighboring school whose facility was so sub-standard, it was closed.
It was not until 1967, in compliance with judicial mandate, that Loudoun schools
were fully integrated. At that time, the Loudoun School Board changed
the name of Banneker to “Mercer.” The School Board decision was later
reversed in response to the St. Louis community’s objections.
Banneker Elementary School was named for Benjamin Banneker, a renaissance
thinker of the late 18th century, who was born a “free Negro.” He was a man of
many accomplishments, an early champion of civil rights who advocated racial
equality in correspondence with Thomas Jefferson.  Today, Banneker Elementary
continues to serve its local community.

Jane Covington is the principal of Jane Covington Restoration.  
She conducted research concerning Banneker and six other rural Loudoun 
schools under contract with the Loudoun County government as part of a 
Certified Local Government Grant financed in part by the National Park 
Service of the US Department of the Interior.  The opinions presented here 
are solely those of Ms. Covington. In Our Backyard is compiled by the 
Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition.  To learn more 
about the organization or to participate in the Rural Roads Initiative, go to