ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WDVM) — This fall, the Virginia Theological Seminary pledged reparations to the descendants of slaves who built buildings on campus and worked on the grounds. Since October, a team of four people, in collaboration with a genealogist and experts at Mount Vernon, has been trying to identify an unknown number of enslaved people who worked on campus starting in 1827.
The researchers have found bills for slave work and newspaper advertisements by three faculty members looking for slave work. VTS is known to have “borrowed” slaves from the Mount Vernon estate, and researchers are working to determine where else they may have come from.
So far, they’ve been able to identify five female and male slaves (their first names, only), ranging in age from their teens to their late thirties.
“Projects of this scale in the 19th century almost certainly involved injury; potentially a fatality,” said Dean Ian Markham, who spearheaded the reparations effort and apologized on behalf of the seminary in 2009. “We’re going to honor the persons and we’re going to honor the memory of those persons.”
Research is expected to take years to complete. Once it’s done, Dean Markham wants to install a full list of names inside the campus’ main building, which was built using slave labor.
Reverend Joseph Thompson is the assistant professor of Race and Ethnicity Studies at VTS. He’s also leading the reparations committee. “Their descendants… the seminary belongs to them just as much as it belongs to everybody else,” Thompson said. “Eventually we hope to have a robust list of people who worked here; either as enslaved persons or as employees during the Jim Crow Era.”