Stroll the red brick sidewalk on Loudoun Street in downtown Leesburg, and it’s easy to become captivated by the new Black history mural on the side of the Loudoun Museum. Painted by DC-based muralist Shawn Perkins, known as SP the Plug, it’s the first of its kind in Virginia.
The mural brings to life and preserves the local legacy of the Underground Railroad, which helped upward of 100,000 enslaved people to freedom, including many who passed through Loudoun County. It’s a history that many may not know, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
“Everyone loves a beautiful picture, but if it has deeper meaning, it can help teach people,” says Perkins. He says he believes art should inspire curiosity and further interest in what a work seeks to illustrate and feelings it hopes to evoke.
Called Journey to Freedom, the mural depicts Bazil Newman, a free Black landowner, ferrying a Black enslaved child across the Potomac River under a full moon as abolitionist Leonard Grimes looks on from across the river, ready to help the boy on his quest for freedom.
“At the end of the day, the goal of art is to tell a story,” says Perkins. “We use our paintbrushes to tell stories in real time.” Perkins hopes the mural will draw in passersby and even encourage some to take a seat and reflect on its historical significance.
Perkins worked with Pastor Michelle Thomas, a local historian and president of the Loudoun County NAACP, in coming up with the concept for the mural. She provided Perkins with historic and geographic particulars, like the role of the Potomac River and Goose Creek, as there were no known photos.
“There is an importance of representing people of color and telling our stories,” says Perkins, a Black artist who has been creating murals full time for eight years, including several works at FedEx Field. The Leesburg mural was proposed and funded by the 89 Ways to Give Foundation.
This story originally ran in our February issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.