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University of Virginia shows its regret for slavery

April 26, 2007 by  
Filed under News

Board’s resolution includes those who built school’s first buildings

( The University of Virginia’s governing board has adopted a resolution expressing regret for the school’s use of slaves, including those “anonymous laborers” who constructed its first buildings.

The resolution, unanimously passed by U.Va.’s board of visitors on April 13 — the 264th birthday of school founder Thomas Jefferson — expresses the school’s “particular regret” for its use of slaves from 1819 until 1865. The university opened in 1825.

School officials believe their board is the first to pass such a resolution.

“The board expresses its particular regret for the employment of enslaved persons in these years and . . . expresses as well its profound respect for the contributions of these women and men, by whose ingenuity and labor much of what is now admired at the university as a national and world treasure came to be,” the resolution reads in part.

The board was inspired by the Virginia General Assembly, which in February passed a resolution of profound regret for the state’s role in slavery, said Thomas Farrell, rector of U.Va’s board of visitors.

It also was following up on U.Va’s erection of a memorial stone at the Rotunda that recognized the role slaves played in constructing the signature building and the Lawn, he said.

The resolution also declares that the board is rec- ommitting itself to the “principles of equal opportunity and to the principle that human freedom and learning” are inextricably linked in Virginia and the United States.

“It is very important to us . . . not just to look back but recognize the commitment of the administration that all types of people are treated fairly for now and in the future,” Farre;; said.

Warren M. Thompson, chairman of the board’s special committee on diversity and whose great-great-grandfather was born into slavery and lived about 20 miles from Charlottesville, said some board members considered the resolution well overdue.

U.Va. denied admission to Thompson’s father, whose three children, however, all attended the university. Thompson is a 1983 graduate of the Darden School of Business.

While everyone knows that Jefferson founded the school, the resolution acknowledges those who put down the footings, framed the buildings and put up their roofs, he said.

The school has been taking steps to diversify the campus, including hiring a chief diversity officer a year and a half ago and working hard to contract with small- and minority-owned businesses, Thompson said.

He said he hopes the resolution sends the message that U.Va. “is really seriously committed to change [and] in the process of changing its culture.”

U.Va. did not admit its first black student until 1950. Walter N. Ridley came to the school in 1951 and became its first African- American graduate two years later when he received a doctorate in education. But it would be an additional 17 years, about the same time that women were admitted as undergraduates, that black students were broadly accepted, a school statement said.

William Harvey, the vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, said it would be a mistake for skeptics to dismiss the resolution as simply words on paper.

“So is the Declaration of Independence. So is the Constitution,” he said. “A lot of things are words on paper but we attach importance to them because we think they convey important ideas, and we think that is the same case here.”

Carol Wood, a U.Va. spokeswoman, said the school has 13,000 undergraduates, of which 24 percent are minority students. African-Americans make up 9 percent of the undergraduate population, she said.

By Jamie C. Ruff

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