“Slavery, in every way imaginable, was central to the project of designing, funding, building, and maintaining” UVA, according to the final report from the President’s Commission on Slavery and the University, released in August.
The report’s findings and conclusions end five years of research and community engagement. Then-President Teresa A. Sullivan in 2013 had tasked the 29-person committee to explore the University’s relationship with slavery and recommend ways to recognize and commemorate it.
For further study and repair, the report discusses the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, set to break ground in December; and suggests renovations to McGuffey Cottage as an interpretive center, scholarships to promote diversity and research endowments for further study. These and other recommendations will be considered by the president’s office, as well as the complementary four-year President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation, launched in February.
“We’re confronting the difficult past we’ve had here,” said Marcus Martin, the slavery commission co-chair and, until his retirement in January 2019, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity.
The 91-page report “goes a long way to putting some of the fundamental history in place,” said commission member Louis Nelson, vice provost for academic outreach and professor of architectural history.
That history is one of individuals, such as Isabella and William Gibbons, who became community leaders after being owned by professors. But it is also one of unpunished violence against free and enslaved workers and degrading policies and practices, such as the robbing of African-American graves for medical studies.
The report also details the commission’s education, memorialization and public engagement initiatives over the past five years, which include hosting symposia such as 2017’s “Universities, Slavery, Public Memory and the Built Landscape”; launching the Rotunda Visitors Center and a self-guided walking tour; and naming Gibbons House and Skipwith Hall after enslaved workers.
“[We’re] owning the history,” Martin said, “and doing what we can through these initiatives to help with atonement.”
The more “we know about the institutional history, the better we educate ourselves,” he said, “and we can acknowledge what happened in the past so we can move forward.”