Activists Say Road Construction Is Encroaching on Slave Cemetery in Virginia

Some residents in Loudoun County, Virginia say they are concerned that construction on the Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7 interchange is threatening their efforts to protect and preserve a slave cemetery.

Pastor Michelle Thomas, founder of the Loudoun Freedom Center, said that she and other residents discovered that the fence line separating the road construction and the cemetery had been moved and that some digging had taken place.

The trees were also removed, Thomas said, exposing the cemetery of marked and unmarked graves. Thomas said the exposure could lead to erosion and possible vandalism.

Loudoun County officials have promised Thomas and other residents that the slave cemetery would be left undisturbed during the construction of the project. New signs have been put up, but the fence has not yet been replaced.

"The county is committed to preserving the cemetery while carefully managing the nearby construction project in a manner that preserves the historic and sacred site," a spokesman for the county said in a statement to News4.

The spokesman also said the county staff had met with the contractors to make sure that the project would not intrude on the slave cemetery.

"In addition, an erosion and sediment control inspector for the project visited the site last week after learning of concerns about possible disturbance on the site. One issue associated with fiber installation was noted and corrected right away. Loudoun County has directed our contractors to replace any and all damaged or deteriorated safety fence that was previously installed along the limits in accordance with the plans. This work was accomplished this week, and will include the addition of 'no trespassing' signs. The County will continue to monitor compliance with the 'no trespassing' directive daily for the foreseeable future," the spokesman said.

Regardless, the cemetery's custodians said that they will be on the watchout.

"We're gonna recognize you, we're gonna bestow on you the honor that you deserve and we're going to do it in our lifetime. We're the generation that will complete your story," said Thomas of the slaves buried in the cemetery.

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