Posted on February 11, 2021

VA. House Votes to Force Public Colleges to Reckon with Ties to Slavery, Create Scholarships or Other Programs

Nick Anderson, Washington Post, February 4, 2021

Five public colleges and universities in Virginia would be required to detail as much as possible their ties to enslaved Black individuals who worked on their grounds and to establish scholarships or economic development programs to benefit communities descended from those people under a bill the Virginia House passed Thursday.

The bill seeks to hold accountable the College of William & Mary, the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Military Institute and Longwood University for their institutional actions during Virginia’s long history of supporting and defending slavery from the Colonial era through the Civil War.

Each of the five schools in recent years has confronted, or begun to confront, what role it played in the enslavement of people of African descent. In that way, they are hardly unique.

From north to south and east to west, colleges and universities have launched similar reviews of their institutional history and what should be done to acknowledge and atone for it. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore became one of the latest to address the issue last year when it revealed that its namesake benefactor had enslaved people.

This movement has led many schools to remove Confederate monuments and symbols, rename buildings and establish memorials to those who were enslaved.

But the Virginia legislation, House Bill 1980, seeks to advance this reckoning in a more comprehensive way at the five schools, which were founded before the abolition of slavery.

The bill, which the Democratic-led House of Delegates approved Thursday on a vote of 61 to 39, calls for the schools to identify and memorialize “to the extent possible, all enslaved individuals who labored on former and current institutionally controlled grounds and property.

It also calls for the schools to provide a “tangible benefit such as a college scholarship or community-based economic development program for individuals or specific communities with a demonstrated historic connection to slavery that will empower families to be lifted out of the cycle of poverty.”

The bill would bar the schools from using state funds or tuition revenue for what it calls the “Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship and Memorial Program.” That means the initiative is likely to require private fundraising or endowment revenue for support. There is no estimate for what the efforts would cost. The issue now moves to the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

“We have to recognize that the racial problems we have in America are things that have been generations in the making,” said Del. David A. Reid (D-Loudoun), the chief patron of the measure. He said the bill envisions “multigenerations of commitment” to address the legacy of slavery.